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Bernalillo County to join in swell of lawsuits against opioid makers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County has now joined the growing list of local governments suing opioid pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and distributors.

County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley

County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley

Mora County filed suit late last month, and Bernalillo County announced Wednesday afternoon that commissioners voted to sue over what Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley said was an “opioid crisis … devastating our community.”

Commissioners voted 4-0 in a closed meeting, with Commissioner Lonnie Talbert absent, Wednesday to seek a law firm to move forward with suit, which has not yet been filed.

“There is a big movement. This has been something that has been in the works for a long time … nationwide. Given the particular situation in Bernalillo, we’re a county that has been really impacted by this more so than other counties,” O’Malley said.

As of July, the Washington Post counted at least 25 states, cities and counties with lawsuits filed against manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains in connection with opioids.

That number has climbed, with counties across the national filing suit nearly weekly.

Bernalillo County hasn’t filed its suit, but the Wednesday meeting, which included commissioners and county attorney and manager, paves the way to it.

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O’Malley said there was much discussion about the purpose and likelihood of success of such a suit.

“They [attorneys] kind of equated it to being like Tobacco litigation that occurred,” she said. “But this is something that is going to take a while.”

The vote authorized the county to contract with a law firm that would represent the county in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids and distributors of the highly-addictive drugs.

“The lawsuit will seek changes in marketing and prescription practices as well as compensation for increased costs to Bernalillo County taxpayers. Commissioners have expressed concern that drug companies have engaged in misleading marketing practices that overstate the effectiveness of opioid-based pain medications and understate how easy it is to get hooked on pain pills,” commissioners said in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

No taxpayer money would be paid upfront for the suit, O’Malley said. Instead, attorney compensation would come from a settlement, were there to be one.

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