GREAT FALLS - Cascade County has retained a law firm to fight the opioid crisis.
During their Tuesday commission meeting, county commissioners agreed to retain Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, PC., Kovacich Snipes P.C., and others across Montana to represent the county in litigation against opioid manufacturers.
The suit will allege that manufacturers use negligent and fraudulent marketing tactics that are used to get the pills on the market. The county is seeking damages to help with recovery and the ability to provide more resources that will address opioid abuse in Cascade County.
"More than 100 Montanans die each year from drug overdose, 42% of that attributed to opioids. It is the #3 leading cause death in Montana, only behind motor vehicle accidents and suicides. It is a far-reaching economic problem for Cascade County. It affects multiple facets of our county government and it is very expensive,” said attorney Ben Snipes.
Snipes says the county hopes to use the resources from the lawsuit to help with addiction prevention, rehabilitation and education.
The Gallatin County Commission has also expressed interest in suing opioid manufacturers with commissioner Don Seifert saying that in addition to all the other problems, commissioners say it’s very costly for taxpayers.
“The abuse of opioids in our society, it's caused great expense to the people of Gallatin County, citizens of Gallatin County, and this is a way that we can maybe get a handle on some of that abuse,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Don Seifert.
Other counties that are reportedly discussing going to court over the issue of opioids include Missoula, Yellowstone and Anaconda-Deer Lodge.
Drug overdose deaths are on the rise nationally and are the third leading cause of injury-related death in Montana, accounting for 1,334 deaths between 2003 and 2014. The rate of opioid overdose death in Montana was just below the national average of 5.5 per 100,000 in 2013-2014, at 5.4 deaths per 100,000.
Since 2000, the rate of prescription drug overdose deaths has doubled, with more than 700 deaths from prescription opioid overdose alone.
For every 100 Montanans, there are 83 painkiller prescriptions written annually in the state.
In 2015, over 15% of high schoolers in Montana reported having taken a prescription medication without a prescription in their lifetime.