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Joe Parisi

Under a resolution to be introduced to the County Board, Dane County would file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for the opioid epidemic, Executive Joe Parisi announced Wednesday.

Dane County could join dozens of states, counties and cities suing pharmaceutical companies for actions they contend have contributed to the opioid overdose epidemic affecting Wisconsin and much of the country, County Executive Joe Parisi said Wednesday.

Under a resolution to be introduced Thursday to the County Board, county lawyers would be instructed to pursue a legal remedy to hold the companies accountable for what Parisi called their responsibility in triggering the epidemic.

“The opioid epidemic has hit local communities hard across the United States, and Dane County is no exception,” Parisi said in a statement. “It’s time to tell pharmaceutical companies that enough is enough.”

Parisi said the companies should not be making a profit from prescription opioids while local governments and communities spend millions of dollars to address the rise in overdoses and treat drug-addicted residents.

“The drug companies manufacture, promote, advertise and push opioids and have made millions on these drugs that have caused so much suffering in our community,” Parisi said.

According to the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, more than 300,000 opioid prescriptions have been dispensed for Dane County residents each year since 2013.

Dane County Emergency Medical Services responded to 643 suspected overdoses in 2017 compared to 486 suspected overdoses in 2016. Public Health Madison and Dane County found the rate of prescription opioid deaths doubled from 6.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2000 to 12.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2016. In the same time frame, deaths involving heroin tripled from 3 per 100,000 to 10.1 per 100,000.

About $7.5 million in Dane County’s 2017 budget went toward alcohol and drug abuse treatment as well as prevention. Grant revenue totaling more than $700,000 from the state and federal government was directed specifically toward treatment for those using opioids or intravenous drugs.

“While we plan to seek legal and financial redress, our end goal is to rein in the abuse of opioids and reduce the human toll and suffering for which these drugs are responsible,” Parisi said.

About two-thirds of Wisconsin’s counties have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. One suit, filed by nearly two dozen counties in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, lists Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and subsidiaries of the companies as defendants, which have denied allegations of causing the opioid overdose epidemic.

Purdue Pharma is “deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution,” the company said in a statement.

Endo Health Solutions said its “top priorities” include patient safety and ensuring access to safe and effective options for patients with chronic pain. Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to The Associated Press that allegations made in lawsuits against the company from various municipalities are “legally and factually unfounded.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.