COEUR d'ALENE — Kootenai County's new-look commission wants to explore whether the county should join a class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
Commissioners on Monday agreed to meet with County Prosecutor Barry McHugh in an executive session to learn about the pros and cons of joining a suit.
"The suit is against a number of pharmaceutical companies for allegedly failing to point out the dangers of opioid use," Chairman Chris Fillios said.
The law firms of Consovoy McCarthy Park in Chicago and Keller Lenkner in New York are leading the charge against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Suits filed last August seek to recover higher insurance costs paid by individuals and businesses due to the opioid epidemic.
The complaints charge opioid firms with fraudulent and deceptive marketing practices, negligence in distributing opioids into the marketplace and other violations.
Commissioner Bill Brooks said he wants to hear McHugh's thoughts on the county joining a class-action suit.
"We have a big resource in Barry McHugh," Brooks said. "Without knowing (the pros and cons), it would be imprudent to take action. (The opioid epidemic) is a big problem in Kootenai County."
Fillios said there can be gray areas in pinpointing blame with opioid abuse.
"Is it the pharmaceutical companies, the physicians or the patients?" he said. "Maybe individual responsibility on how much you take needs to be asserted, but that's not to let the pharmaceutical companies off the hook, either."
Brooks, a disabled veteran and former hospital administrator, said he has witnessed the winds of change in recent years in how prescriptions at Veterans Affairs hospitals are handled.
Just a few years ago, some patients were told to take as many opioids as they needed.
"Now you can't fill prescriptions without coming in," Brooks said.
Brooks said he's skeptical about the county recovering much, if any, costs related to opioid-related cases if it joins a suit.
"But the firm that takes it on does quite well if it succeeds," he said.
• In other business, Brooks said he has asked staff to make televising commissioner meetings a priority.
"It's important that we be transparent so people can see and hear what we do," he said.
Commissioners also said they would like to consider a resolution in support of a legislative effort to make pet abuse in Idaho a felony.
"There (currently) is really no downside to the abuser," Brooks said. "They are very seldom caught and not likely to be prosecuted in Idaho, which is sad."
Fillios said pet abuse can often lead to the abuse of people.