The Dane County Board of Supervisors voted Thursday to allow the county’s Office of Corporation Counsel to select an outside lawyer to initiate legal action against companies that have illegally contributed to the opioid epidemic in Dane County.
According to the resolution, the opioid epidemic claims a significant number of lives each year in Dane County. The number of opioid-related deaths in 2016 has increased 130 percent since 2010 and estimates another 50 percent increase in 2017.
Over two-thirds of Wisconsin counties have already sued prescription drug companies for similar damages.
At the meeting, Supervisor Mary M. Kolar, District 1, said she believes the opioid epidemic is an extremely important issue.
“I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is in this country [to address] the opioid crisis,” Kolar said. “In my family, as far as I know, I’ve been blessed that it hasn’t hit my family directly. But the opioid crisis is hitting multiple millions of people every day.”
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Ninety-one people die every day in the U.S. because of the opioid crisis, and it has been hitting Dane County at a greater magnitude than other communities in Wisconsin, the resolution said.
Kolar is specifically concerned about the veteran population who are involved in the epidemic.
“What is most tragic to me is veterans who are in pain because of service to their country, and have literally had their lives come to almost an end,” Kolar said. “They have to live with pain every day — but instead of finding other ways to address that pain, they are given a pill.”
The resolution includes plans for an outside counsel to initiate legal action against companies who have been found to illegally supply opioids to veterans in Dane County.
Supervisor Tim Kiefer, District 25, questioned Marcia A. MacKenzie, Dane County’s Corporation Counsel, on the negotiation of contingency fees involved in hiring an outside counsel to address the issue.
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MacKenzie noted there is a specific firm they have in mind, but did not provide any further information on what the firm may be.
“Their percentage [on the contingency fee] is 25 percent, with 10 percent of that going to a law firm that also represents the county’s association,” MacKenzie said. “Because of that, I wanted to see if the county could get a better deal. It may not be possible, but we owe it to the citizens and taxpayers to look into it.”
After discussion, the board voted to allow the OCC to select an outside counsel to bring forth the suit.
The counsel will not be compensated unless the county receives a financial benefit in a lawsuit against a company found to have illegally contributed to the opioid epidemic within Dane County, the resolution said.
“This is a crisis that must be addressed,” Kolar said. “Thank you for your vote for this resolution, where we join municipalities and local governments throughout the country who are doing their part to fight the misuse and abuse of what could be a benefit, but instead, the bottom-line profit became the motivation.”