Livingston County officials have joined a nationwide lawsuit that aims to combat the opioid crisis and targets pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and sell the drugs.

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners met Monday night and authorized an agreement with Weitz & Luxenberg P.C., the Sam Bernstein Law Firm and the Behm & Behm Law Firm, who are collectively representing Michigan counties and municipalities in the lawsuit. They will investigate and pursue, if appropriate, Livingston County’s claims against the manufacturers and/or wholesale distributors of controlled substances. Livingston County has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis. Potential relief could come in the form of the county being awarded damages related to opioid treatment, related deaths and law enforcement costs.

Attorney Michael Behm says this is national litigation in federal court and multi-district litigation so all of the cases are being heard in the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland. About 1,500 municipalities across the country are part of the litigation. By joining, he says Livingston County itself becomes its own plaintiff or party to the litigation. Behm said he feels strongly about this litigation, which involves several defendants. He says they are in the middle of the litigation now and represent about 60 municipalities in Michigan and all of the cases are at different points. Behm says they’ll file Livingston County’s case very quickly because it’s getting to the legal point where no more complaints can be filed. Behm says Livingston County will be its own party to the litigation so if the result is in favor of Livingston County, the county alone would decide what to do with any proceeds. The lawsuit is against drug manufacturers, retailers and distributors. Behm says most of the producers of opioids are smaller, privately held companies - not the publicly traded companies people are used to hearing about. He says most of these companies are ones you don’t hear about on a daily basis but they are extremely powerful. Behm says every county in the state has been affected, some more that others, with Livingston included. He says some of the things they’ve uncovered through their research and investigations is that these drug companies knew how addictive these opioids were but still pressed them and pushed them on communities – adding well over 100 people die a day due to these addictions.

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, with Carol Griffith absent. Commissioner and retired Sheriff Bob Bezotte said he’s been fighting the opioid issue since 1973 when he first started in law enforcement. Bezotte said for him, it’s more about abuse by companies and doctors and accountability than money. Chairman Don Parker called it a major step for Livingston County as it’s quite expansive litigation with significant defendants. However, he said the epidemic is quite expansive as well and it’s felt by many people in the community. (JM)