St. Johns County School District to join lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School Board voted Tuesday to join a multi-district lawsuit targeting pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids, as well as companies that distribute the drugs.

During a special meeting, the school board voted unanimously to request to authorize hiring three law firms to file claims on behalf of the board in National Prescription Opiate Multi-District Litigation and related bankruptcy proceedings.

The lawsuit, involving at least 60 school districts across the nation, alleges the district has “suffered significant damages” as a result of the national opioid epidemic including the expenditures of public funds to address the impact of this epidemic on students and teachers, specifically providing special education for students.

Board Chair Patrick Canan, a trial lawyer in St. Augustine, said joining the lawsuit is “kind of a no-brainer” but added that his only concern is that there could be a burden on district staff while it collects records needed for the case.

Board member Tony Coleman said that it makes sense to join the suit in order to hold people accountable.

The key focus of the claims is the increased expense of special education and supplementary education costs caused by the growing number of children born with disabilities as a result of maternal opioid use during pregnancy.

School districts are accusing the drug companies of contributing to the opioid crisis by promoting painkillers and downplaying addiction risks.

The law firms that will represent the district include Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. (Chicago), Mehri & Skalet, PLLC (Washington, D.C.) and Terrell Hogan Yegelwel, P.A. (Jacksonville). Wayne Hogan gained notoriety when he was one of nine Florida trial lawyers hired by the state to fight Big Tobacco in the 1990s.

The district will not spend any money for its participation in the litigation, according to district documents.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses in 2019.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year. That includes healthcare costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

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