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Dakota County to join lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

Dakota County will join several Minnesota counties in taking action against pharmaceutical companies and distributors in the sale and manufacture of opioid drugs.

"Companies that manufacture, distribute and market these drugs are causing a cycle of destruction in Dakota County," Dakota County attorney James Backstrom said.

The lawsuit will seek changes in pharmaceutical marketing practices for opioids, preventative public education, training of non-healthcare professionals to expand the ability to stop the crisis, as well as monetary relief for Dakota County including compensatory and punitive damages for the tax dollars spent each year to combat the opioid public health crisis.

There were 26 opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2016 in Dakota County, double what the county saw 10 years ago. Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie said the numbers are misleadingly low because the figures do not include deaths of people whose addiction began with opioids and then died from an overdose caused by an illegal street drug.

"Our jails are filled with people who are committing crimes in Dakota County to feed their addiction, but we cannot arrest our way out of this problem," Leslie said.

Dakota County commissioner Mike Slavik said the deceptive marketing of pharmaceutical companies and distributors is inflicting destruction physically, socially and financially.

"This epidemic is substantially straining public resources such as health care, criminal justice, first responders, public safety and social services," Slavik said.

Opioids include medications to treat severe short-term pain. According to a Dakota County press release Dec. 12, the county said irresponsible and fraudulent marketing campaigns by the pharmaceutical industry touted opioids as safe, non-addictive pain relievers that could be safely used long-term by those with chronic pain conditions.

On Nov. 30, about 20 other Minnesota counties announced civil action against major pharmaceutical companies for the sale and manufacture of opioids. Slavik and Dakota County attorney James Backstrom attended the press conference in support of the counties.

Minnesota is not the only state to file against pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and distribute opioids, including several Wisconsin counties.

The Motley Rice firm has been retained to represent Dakota County and will work with the Twin Cities firm of Briol & Benson on a contingent fee basis. The law firms will only receive compensation and reimbursement of costs if the lawsuit is successful.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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