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Colorado Cities and Counties Seek Justice Against Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors

DENVER – Today, over a dozen Colorado local governments announced that they have taken the next step in pursuing litigation against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids by selecting outside counsel. Led by the City and County of Denver, the municipal coalition also includes Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, Larimer and Teller counties, and the cities of Aurora, Black Hawk, Commerce City, Northglenn, and the Town of Hudson. The law firm selected, Keller Rohrback, is based in Seattle, WA and, among other clients, represents a large group of cities and counties who have sued opioid manufacturers and distributors in the State of Washington.

In 2016, opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in the United States. Communities across the nation are reckoning with the rising (mis)use of opioids and resulting increase in overdoses. The epidemic has taken a huge toll on the country, including deaths, visits to the emergency room, hospital stays, and unmeasurable pain felt by those who have become addicted to these drugs along with their families and communities.

The Colorado coalition of cities and counties recognize that the opioid epidemic is one of the largest public health issues we face today, and that the impact of opioids (mis)use crosses jurisdictional boundaries. “The opioid crisis has deeply impacted our local communities,” said Deb Gardner, Boulder County Commissioner. “It is imperative that we act now to prevent future suffering and to provide the support and resources individuals and families need to live healthy, productive lives.”

The intent of pursuing a litigation strategy is to drive industry reforms, enhance local level resources, and ultimately slow this growing crisis.

These local governments represent a disparate group of communities – large and small, rural and urban – who have been deeply affected by the crisis.  The collective goal is to leverage a recovery which will help offset some of the programmatic cost increases in health care, first responders, substance (mis)use treatment, and local law enforcement, and which can be reinvested in the community to help address the multi-faceted issues related to addiction.

In his recent State of City address, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock addressed the crisis: 

“We must be clear that this opioid crisis could have been avoided, yet for greed and indifference…[we] will use every legal tool available in holding opioid manufacturers [and distributors] liable for the social and economic devastation their actions have caused our city and our people.”

Litigation is only one factor in alleviating this complex epidemic and the local governments will continue to pursue additional strategies and activities to reduce the spread of this crisis. On July 24, Mayor Hancock and the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment released a five-year Opioid Response Strategic Plan with the goal of preventing substance (mis)use, improving treatment access and retention, and reducing harm. 

The contract with Keller Rohrback is subject to individual approval by the city councils and county commissions of the member cities and counties. No taxpayer funds will be spent on outside attorneys. The fee agreement negotiated by the cities and counties is contingent on a recovery, and any fees and costs will be taken from that recovery.