DUNWOODY, Ga. — Dunwoody has joined a multi-district lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors to recoup money for past and future damages related to the drug epidemic.
Dunwoody police recorded 19 overdoses in the city in 2018, three of them fatal. The numbers for 2019 so far are on par with last year, with nine reported overdoses and three fatalities.
Over the past five years, Dunwoody police have carried naloxone, or Narcan, a nasal spray that can help alleviate opioid-related overdoses and save lives. By joining in the lawsuit the city will have a chance to recover the cost used to purchase Narcan, as well as other past and future costs associated with the epidemic.
Matt Conn, an attorney with Alabama-based Friedman, Dazzio, Zulanas and Bowling, presented the suit to the council July 22, saying that his firm has worked with many cities and counties of a similar size to Dunwoody in the Southeast. Under terms of the agreement, Dunwoody will not owe any legal fees, costs or expenses if no money is recovered in the case.
“We know there’s an opioid epidemic,” Conn said. “The question now is just what we’re going to do about it.”
There were 70,000 overdose related deaths in the U.S. in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The lawsuit is part of a multi-district filing consolidating hundreds of cases from across the country that will to go before a judge this October in northern Ohio. The suit will be filed against many of the largest opioid manufacturers and distributors including Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt PLC and Cardinal Health, Inc.
Dunwoody City Councilman John Heneghan has a personal connection to the opioid crisis. During the meeting, he said he had a friend who lost their life to an opioid overdose.
“I’m not a punitive person,” Heneghan said. “I’m not looking for the city of Dunwoody to get rich or to make social change. I’m just looking to make sure we have the tools available to save lives.”
The council discussed this lawsuit last year in March, when neighboring cities like Sandy Springs were joining in. But it was not made an agenda item until this most recent meeting when the council voted unanimously to join the suit in a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Tom Lambert absent.
Dunwoody police have made recent efforts to educate the public about the dangers of opioids, said Sgt. Robert Parsons, who pushed for the department to start tracking overdoses and get Narcan for all officers in 2015. All sworn and most unsworn staff members are required to take an eight-hour course on mental health first aid, and the department will be offering three mental health classes to the public this fall. Opioid education is part of CPR classes that Parsons teaches as well.
“We’re not trying to incarcerate people for anything with drugs,” Parsons said. “We train our officers to, when appropriate, transport them to a hospital or other treatment space and hopefully get them help and on their road to recovery.”