At Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, eight members of the Missoula City Council heard Mayor John Engen propose joining a lawsuit against major drug makers such as Purdue Pharma to collect damages done to Missoula residents damaged by opiods.

“What we think we can do about is join in trying to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible, mostly financially, for what appears to be willful misrepresentation of the effect of their product,” said Engen.

Engen then introduced Missoula attorney Scott Stearns, who provided more details about how the city might benefit from such a lawsuit.

“The penalties sought here in this complaint include civil penalties,” said Stearns. “The compensatory penalties you’re used to in terms of fraud-type claims or negligence based claims, punitive damages and then we’re also seeking attorney’s fees and costs.

Stearns said the attorney’s fees would be a flat 25 percent of whatever was collected from the pharmaceutical companies.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, appearing on KGVO’s Talk Back show on Thursday, strongly urged local municipalities not to get involved in such an action, as it could weaken lawsuits already filed on behalf of all the citizens of the state.

“When we have municipalities and counties start to go at their own, they certainly risk not participating in anything that the state might recover,” said Fox. “They don’t have as strong a claim, and what ends up happening is that more money ends up going to the plaintiff’s attorneys and dilutes the actual amount of money that can get right down to the local level to help with these problems.”

Fox also said companies such as Purdue Pharma won’t hesitate to escape from lawsuits filed by 50 states and hundreds of individual municipalities.

“The more of these individual entities that get involved, it becomes more complicated to find a global settlement,” he said. “Purdue Pharma, the largest manufacturer of these opiod based drugs, has given their notice that if they can’t come up with some global settlement, they’ll just file for bankruptcy.”

No actual amount of monetary damages was included in the suit.

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