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St. Louis County Opens Door for Opioid Lawsuit

Baihly Warfield
November 14, 2017 07:49 PM

The St. Louis County Board paved the way Tuesday for the county attorney to sue several manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.

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Attorney Mark Rubin said about 60 other counties around the country have brought similar lawsuits, but St. Louis would be the first in Minnesota. Douglas County, Wisconsin, is one of the 60 that have sued. 

"As your county attorney, I have a responsibility to help protect children and address the health and safety of our community," Rubin said. 

He'll seek compensation for damages related to the opioid epidemic. According to the county resolution, opioid overdoses have increased 430 percent since 2000 in Minnesota. The national average is a 200 percent increase. 

"It's a devastating impact that our children are suffering, adults, young adults, older adults," Rubin said. "It's across the entire spectrum."

District 5 Commissioner Pete Stauber said he has seen that impact firsthand as a police officer. 

"I've seen and had to comfort parents of a deceased child in their bedroom from overdoses. I've had to give notifications of deceased family members because of overdoses," Stauber said. "It's one of the most horrible things that law enforcement officers have to do."

Commissioner Patrick Boyle, district 2, chairs the Health and Human Services committee. He said he has grave concerns with how opioids can affect families. 

"We have just under 800 kids in out-of-home placement, at the cost over just over 10 percent of property taxes in St. Louis County," Boyle said. "And the supermajority of those kids, I can guarantee are off the opiate and heroin epidemic."

However, commissioners acknowledged this lawsuit is not a solution. 

"You can sue anybody you want," 4th District Commissioner Tom Rukavina said. "You're not going to solve the problem. The only way you solve the problem is you give them a good job, and the only way you get a good job is to get a good education."

Commissioner Keith Nelson, District 6, said this is a "bold step" and drew on personal experience to make his decision. 

"When you become a grandparent, you stop worrying about the world that you're living in. And you start worrying about the world that they're going to live in," Nelson said. 

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson also stopped by Tuesday morning's meeting and threw her support behind the issue. 

"I am so proud of St. Louis County for taking that leadership," Larson said. "It is such a prevalent issue for us here in Duluth. I know it is for you, I know whether it's Public Health and Human Services or sheriffs or housing or whatever, just such a prevalent issue."

She said the city will do whatever it can to support the county attorney's office in the lawsuit. 

By authorizing Rubin to seek the lawsuit, the St. Louis County Board will also allow him to hire an outside firm to help. Rubin said the firm will do that with no fees or expenses, but it will take a 25 percent contingency. 

Rubin didn't give an idea of how much money a settlement may procure, but the resolution said the goal is to "provide the county with additional resources to combat opioid addiction, overdoses and death through both equitable and monetary relief." 

Attorney Rubin expects the suit will be filed in the next couple of weeks. 

Legislative Priorities

The County Board also approved its legislative priorities for 2018. 

Because it's an even year, it's a bonding year. At the top of the county's list is a request for $5.75 million in repairs to the Depot. That money would go toward replacing the roof, making repairs on the exterior and putting in a new HVAC system. 

The list of bonding requests also includes funding for short- and long-term crisis housing and upgrades to buildings at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center. 

Commissioner Boyle proposed an amendment adding money for the Glensheen as another priority. And Commissioner Rukavina asked for another amendment listing funding for an Ely trailhead and business park expansion as county priorities. 

The 2018 legislative session begins in February. 


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Baihly Warfield

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