Island County is preparing to join San Juan, Skagit and Snohomish counties, and many others, in a lawsuit against prescription opioid manufacturers. (Patrick Sison / AP file)

Island County is preparing to join San Juan, Skagit and Snohomish counties, and many others, in a lawsuit against prescription opioid manufacturers. (Patrick Sison / AP file)

Island County prepares to join opioid lawsuit

In 2017, nine Island County residents died as a result of an opioid overdose.

By Laura Guido / South Whidbey Record

COUPEVILLE — Island County is prepared to join the litigation against prescription opioid manufacturers.

The vote is scheduled for Tuesday during the Board of Island County Commissioners regular meeting.

The board decided during a work session last week to move forward a resolution proposed by Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks.

Commissioner Rick Hannold said during the meeting he was not in favor of joining the suit.

“My take on the whole thing is, until we start doing law enforcement and ridding the streets of the supply, then nothing’s going to fix anything,” Hannold said.

The idea to join the lawsuit was discussed during a meeting held in April with department leaders and staff, as well as attorneys from a Seattle firm.

Banks approached the firm after learning it was representing other local cities and counties in the national effort.

The agreement that is expected to be signed by the commissioners states that attorney fees will be paid only if a settlement is reached and funds are recovered.

Sheriff Mark Brown said during a recent meeting that he is in favor of the county’s decision. He likened it to the tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s in which money was distributed to communities to help address problems.

“We certainly have issues in front of us,” he said.

In 2017, nine Island County residents died as a result of opioid overdoses, and six of those were from prescription opioids, according to the resolution.

The number of residents receiving behavioral health services with an opioid diagnosis has increased steadily and will have doubled between 2016 and the end of 2018, the resolution states.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she sees the county being part of the lawsuit as a way to ensure it receives potential recovery funds.

“Our choice, it seems to me, is either we let the money go to the state on our behalf and hope that some of it comes to us,” she said.

“Or we enter the lawsuit as a party of record.”

The lawsuit will be against manufacturers and “other responsible parties” accused of misleading marketing and distribution of the drugs.

Commissioner Jill Johnson previously expressed skepticism about the lawsuit, but said Wednesday she changed her mind after watching videos produced by some of the involved manufacturers.

In particular, she referred to statements that the drugs aren’t addictive. Her support was contingent on the money that is potentially recovered from a settlement being limited to treatment options.

Johnson said she would prefer the funds go toward treatment facilities, but she’s willing to discuss that more later.

After Johnson spoke, Banks added language in the resolution that the money could not supplant general operating budgets.

Fifteen counties joined the lawsuit and more are considering it, according to Banks. These include nearby San Juan, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

Several states and cities are also part of the lawsuit.

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