CHARLOTTE -- Attorney Paul Coates is one of the dozens of attorneys involved in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“They're breaking the rules, and because they're breaking the rules, people are dying,” says Coates.
Counties involved say their budgets are feeling the pinch as they try and take care of people addicted to opioids.
More than 100 states, counties and cities are suing the drug companies. Many of them have joined together.
“It's pretty unprecedented,” saysUniversity of Michigan Assistant Professor Rebecca Haffajee.
Haffaje says the opioid crisis can best be compared to the lawsuit against tobacco in the nineties.That lawsuit was settled for $246 billion dollars over 25 years.
“We will see more settlements of greater magnitude is my prediction. Whether we will get to that hundreds of billions dollars figure I’m not sure,” says Haffajee.
Haffajee says the government aims to prove a number of claims including:
- Fraud and misrepresentation by drug companies
- Public nuisance
- Unjust enrichment at the government's expense
- Failing to report suspicious shipments.
Haffajee says finding evidence for some of the claims could be hard, but the amount of money could be high.
“I'm somewhat optimistic that these government claims aggregately might be quite successful,” says Haffajee.
Joining the lawsuit is a win-win for governments, according to Coates. Many of them don't have to pay unless the lawsuits are successful.
While taxpayers likely won't directly see any potential settlement money, supporters say it could be a step towards fighting a deadly epidemic.
Coates says the judge in the lawsuit he’s involved in would like the parties to settle this year. If a settlement can’t be reached, he wants the trial to start early next year.
Burke and Gaston County are involved in a lawsuit againt drug companies. Mecklenburg County is considering suing.