County reluctance on opioid lawsuit is reasonable

The Ward County Commission is right to table – at least – the possibility of joining groups of municipalities seeking to sue the manufacturers of opioid painkillers.

This isn’t because legal action shouldn’t be pursued. Rather it is because the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office is part of a multi-state group of 40 attorneys generals involved in a settlement discussion with opioid manufacturers and distributors. In May, the Attorney General’s Office was among other state attorney generals to sue Purdue Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic in America, arguing Purdue knew the serious risks of long-term opioid use and minimized or ignored evidence. Connecticut-based Purdue, which has denied the accusation, is one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of prescription opioids, including OxyContin.

However, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office discourages counties and other entities from bringing their own legal actions because lawsuits entail costs that will reduce their awards and will simply replicate work the state already is doing. He added that as attorney general, he is suing in part based on consumer fraud, which only the state has the ability to enforce. Without that enforcement tool, counties will have a more difficult time in a lawsuit, he said.

Stenehjem applauded Ward County for its restraint.

It’s understandable that the county would want to take action, given the tremendous impact of opioid painkillers on this community. However, with action on behalf of North Dakota already underway, a county effort wouldn’t seem to have the capacity to add much.

Ward County residents should get the message – from the local level to top state authorities, this problem is on the radar of all of our representatives. The county is certainly well-intended.

This just might not be a strategy for the most desireable outcome.