Forest Park is taking a stance on prescription opioids by joining a growing number of municipalities in Illinois in lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.
The village council voted 4-0 Sept. 24 to retain the services of Edelson PC and join a class-action lawsuit seeking to recoup damages from the defendant companies and doctors for their roles in creating a nationwide opioid epidemic and the costs associated with combating it. Commissioner Dan Novak was absent.
Also named is Riverside Pain Management, a former Riverside “pill mill” that dispensed hundreds of thousands of doses of the medications before it was forced to close in early 2017.
River Forest was among the first municipalities to file suit, doing so in May. Oak Park is expected to take similar action this month or next month.
“The dangers of overprescribing opioids has a major impact on human life across the country,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said. “Besides death, there are other costs associated with this epidemic, such as the cost of police and fire personnel who respond to overdoses.
“Additionally, this has an impact on crimes committed by people who become addicted and, in turn, commit a variety of crimes to support their habit. This multi-state opioid litigating hopes to reduce if not eliminate the abuse of opioids.”
Fire Chief Bob McDermott noted that Fire Department personnel have administered Narcan 39 times in 2018 through September. Narcan, the brand name for Naloxone, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdoses. McDermott said Forest Park’s use of Narcan typically involved a heroin overdose.
The village will not pay any attorney fees or expenses unless it achieves recovery, settlement or judgment in the opioid matter, according to Calderone.
If the judge rules an outcome in the case, Forest Park will pay 23 percent of the net recovery if the matter is resolved pre-complaint; 28 percent if the matter is resolved after the complaint is filed but before a summary judgment briefing is completed; and 32 percent of the net recovery if the matter is resolved after summary judgment briefing is completed in either the village’s lawsuit or in any related consolidated proceeding, according to the resolution adopted Sept. 24.
Ari Scharg, a partner at Edelson, said Forest Park will be a plaintiff, along with 10 or 12 more municipalities, in a third lawsuit that will be filed in Cook County Circuit Court within the next couple of weeks.
The first suit filed by Edelson in May named 11 municipalities; the second, filed in July, named 13 more municipalities and one fire protection district.
Scharg said Edelson has chosen to file the cases in state court rather than consolidate their cases with the hundreds of cases being consolidated as part of a multi-district litigation being handled in U.S. District Court in Ohio, the first of which was filed in 2016.
“Our clients feel opioids is a local issue,” he said. “We want a local judge to decide.”
Calderone said he was first informed of the class action lawsuits when Edelson representatives made a presentation at a Proviso Municipal League meeting. He said he asked Village Attorney Nick Peppers to investigate, leading to the Sept. 24 action.
Defendants include manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Jannssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan PLC, and Mallinckrodt PLC and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. In a previous filing, Edelson representatives said the manufacturers of drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and Actiq misled physicians and consumers about the medications’ safety and that distribution companies failed to sound an alarm as the opioids flooded into Illinois.
By specifying Riverside Pain Management, which operated in Riverside from 2013 to 2017 and whose doctors have had their medical licenses stripped from them by the state, Edelson’s lawyers said they believe the cases will remain in state court.
On Aug. 2 the defendants in the Cook County cases removed the lawsuits to federal court, but Scharg said that because of the local nature of the suit, naming individual doctors and municipal code violations, he fully expects the cases to be remanded back to Cook County.
“It’s a delay tactic, which is what we expect,” Scharg said. “We’re going to file a motion to remand as soon as possible.”
The physicians identified in the lawsuit are Dr. Joseph Giacchino, Dr. Paul Madison and Dr. William McMahon.
In the 22 months prior to having his medical license stripped by the state, Madison allegedly prescribed about 1.6 million doses of controlled substances out of his office in Riverside.
The lawsuits are the latest event in the national opioid epidemic that has seen more than 165,000 Americans die from overdoses related to opioid use through 2014, according to Edelson representatives. They said in a previous filing that the wide use of prescription opioids is one of the reasons “local governments are struggling with a pernicious, ever-expanding epidemic.”