Winnebago County and City of Rockford leaders join forces to sue some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country, saying deceptive practice and profiteering on their part helped pave the way to an opioid epidemic in our area.
In a news conference Tuesday, Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, and Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato announced the litigation. They say they are focused on changing lives in our area, and recouping the costs incurred from local government's responses from spikes in opioid-related overdoses.
"We are not going to let these profiteers, these corporations, prey upon the people of this community and then ask our taxpayers to clean up the mess," Bruscato told the media. "We've had enough."
A law firm headed by former Judge Ann Callis will take over the litigation. Her team of attorneys say they are prepared to go to trial, but expect a settlement that could reach eight figures. They say they will not charge any taxpayer money, and will be compensated based on recovery of a settlement. Money from that settlement will also go toward local municipalities and services.
Winnebago County and Rockford's announcement joins a growing list of counties and municipalities from across the state and country in filing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. Just last month, 13 WREX reported DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake counties filed their own lawsuits. The lawsuit announced today has not been filed. Local leaders say it will be filed in federal court soon, but could take years to come to a resolution.
As of Dec. 15, 2017, 122 people died of a drug-related overdose in Winnebago County. That outpaced 2016, which saw 96 people die of an overdose. On Tuesday, Chairman Haney said Illinois is on pace to lose 2,700 people to overdose by 2020. He says the lawsuit is one step to preventing more deaths.
"It's important to note today's announcement is only a step, a piece of a puzzle. No one piece is a stand-alone solution. No one entity can reverse the trend in isolation," Haney said.
That sentiment was echoed by Mayor McNamara, who said lives are being destroyed because of the opioid epidemic and local municipalities are struggling to keep up.
"Police, fire and hospitals are diverting precious resources they have to respond to this epidemic," McNamara said.
Lawyers representing Callis' law firm said they were not prepared to name all parties being sued, however they did name McKesson and Cardinal Health.
"We are going to change the way business is done. They need to clean up the problems they created," said attorney Peter Mougey.
This is a developing story. Please check back with 13 WREX throughout the day for updates. Join us tonight on 13 News at 5 and 6 for a full recap and team coverage on today's announcement.