PROVO, Utah (News4Utah) – In a unanimous vote, Utah County Commissioners adopted a contract with Jones Waldo Attorneys at Law and other firms in an effort to sue manufacturers of opioids.
The move comes as several Utah counties file similar lawsuits on a state and federal level against pharmaceutical companies that produce narcotics for pain and other ailments.
According to the contract with the law firms, Utah County agrees to pay 25% of any lawsuit winnings to the firms, with no cost to taxpayers. No suit has been filed yet, but Commissioner Bill Lee says now that an attorney retention agreement has been approved, it’s only a matter of time before Utah County joins in the effort to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for what they call “deceptive and fraudulent marketing” of prescription pain pills.
“This contract is a step forward,” said Commissioner Lee. “It will help us to keep the dialogue going, and put some pressure on [companies].”
According to the Utah Dept. of Health, Utah ranked 7th in the nation for prescription opioid deaths, with 262 adult prescription overdose deaths in 2015. UDOH also says deaths due to opioid overdose have outpaced deaths in Utah due to firearms, falls and vehicle crashes.
In 2017, numbers were released by the Utah Dept. of Human Services, which showed a total of 630 people died in 2015 due to opioid overdose – a number that includes both prescription drugs and heroin.
Utah saw a slight decrease in prescription drug deaths in 2015, but the number of heroin deaths increased, according to the Utah Dept. of Health.