City to enter opioid lawsuit

City leaders agreed Monday to enter a cross-jurisdictional lawsuit against nationwide opioid distributors to possibly recoup money spent because of area drug abuse.

Jacksonville’s City Council voted to enter a contract with Birmingham attorney Annesley DeGaris, who would oversee the proposed litigation. If successful, the lawsuit would help Jacksonville and other participating cities recover money spent dealing with the repercussions of prescription opioid abuse, which has risen sharply nationally over the last decade.

The council agreed to enter the litigation during its regular Monday meeting. DeGaris had proposed the litigation to the council at a previous meeting. DeGaris won’t charge the city and instead will be paid a percentage of any settlement money awarded.

Attempts to reach DeGaris for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

DeGaris has said that the national rise in opioid abuse could have been prevented. He alleges that over the years, drug distributors and manufacturers used faulty data and encouraged physicians to prescribe powerful opioids more often than they should have, as way to increase revenue.

Abuse of opioids, a group of painkillers that includes heroin and substances available by prescription, has jumped in the last two decades.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of opioid overdose deaths has increased 200 percent. In 2014, 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S., a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year, the CDC states.

“It’ll be a challenging lawsuit,” Councilman Jimmy Harrell, who is also an Alabama State Trooper, said after the meeting. “But if in fact it does have a positive effect in reducing opioid abuse, then it’s well worth it.”

DeGaris has said he represents at least eight Alabama cities in the proposed litigation and is working to represent cities in Texas and other states. DeGaris has said he expects to file the lawsuit by the end of the year.

Also during the meeting, the council set liens on four residential properties that the city had recently demolished. The plan is to recoup money the city spent to demolish the structures from whoever might buy the properties.

The liens included $4,790 on 506 Francis Street SW, $8,375 on A Street SW, $7,390 on 83 C Street SW and $12,375 on 311 2nd Ave. NE.

During a Monday phone interview, Mark Williams, city building inspector, said the homes were dilapidated and needed demolishing. Since 2005, the city has paid to demolish 15 unsound buildings and convinced private property owners to tear down 135 more.

Williams said however that Monday was the first time the council had voted to put liens on any demolished properties. The city switched policies on how it deals with such properties earlier this year, he said.

“Before we didn’t file liens, we just budgeted for demolitions and did them,” Williams said.

Also during the meeting the council:

— Voted to spend $29,418 to buy CPR chest compression devices from Physio-Control, Inc.

— Approved a resolution endorsing and supporting the Alabama legislation requiring Department of Human Resource licensing for child-care facilities.

Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.