by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — Without any monetary risk to taxpayers, the Huerfano County Commissioners this week agreed to enter into a contract with a private, personal injury, malpractice and consumer advocate attorney in the growing national fight against pharmaceutical company’s profiting from a national addiction to painkiller prescriptions.
Steven Ochs, a recently retired MD and a civil trial attorney for the past 18-years, made an in-depth presentation to county commissioners Tuesday about Opioid addiction and its effects on local economies, families, social services and law enforcement.
Ochs’ law firm is based in Colorado Springs, and his son Jason has a law firm in Jackson and Casper WY., and an additional office in Irvine, CA.
Ochs told the commissioners the problem with Opioid addiction is one that dates back some 40 years. He said medical industry trade advertising and practices over the past two decades or so, have resulted in skyrocketing addiction numbers in many states, including Colorado and federal fines against so-call Big Pharma companies are seen by the firms as just a cost of doing business.
He proposed Huerfano County come on as a client against the huge companies that promote opioid pain killers, the distribution firms that ship large amounts of the addictive drugs and others who may violate legal practices associated with the growing addiction problem right down to the county level. The law firm would only charge a 25% cut of a settlement and a maximum of 15% for legal charges, but would only get paid if the county received a settlement or judgement.
“Since 2015 approximately 25 states, counties and municipalities have filed lawsuits against the Opioid manufacturers alleging deceptive and fraudulent advertising. The marketing blitz has worked extremely well (for the pharma companies) as the numbers reflect: more than 140 people die every day from an opioid drug overdose, said Jason Edward Ochs in a September 2017 presentation before the Wyoming County Attorney’s Association. Ochs said, “Withdrawal symptoms have been described in the medical literature as being far worse than often the underlying pain that was being treated in the first place. Young people have posted online videos of the traumatic withdrawals they have gone through, and they are absolutely heart breaking. Remarkably, my impression has been that most public officials at the local level do not appreciate the true impact this epidemic is having in our communities.”
The problem with Opioid addiction is serious in both Las Animas and Huerfano County, with both of the Third Judicial District counties recording overdose deaths and rising crime statistics from those involved in criminal activity to pay for their addiction. In many cases, a person has an injury and is prescribed the medication, but when the prescription runs out they may result to buying pills on the street. Many of those find the cost of illegal Opioids out of their reach and they turn to a lower cost ‘fix’: heroin.
In his speech in September, Jason Ochs said, “the Washington Post and 60 Minutes reported that Todd Marino, nominated for the country’s “drug czar”, received enormous amounts of campaign money from the pharmaceutical industry and sponsored legislation that hindered the Drug Enforcement Agency from being able to adequately and aggressively go after the Opioid manufacturers.” Ochs also noted in his presentation, “Marino withdrew himself from consideration for drug czar, no doubt in light of the Washington Post and 60 Minutes piece.”
Ochs said the fight against Opioid manufacturers must be brought by the public; through attorney generals’ offices, county and city attorneys and private lawyers. “Litigation against the manufacturers will be, and has been, extremely expensive. The issues are complex and all consuming for most private firms; much less for small county attorney offices. But the private sector is prepared to help, and can do so by fronting costs and expenses to counties and municipalities and taking on the stress of the litigation,” the younger Ochs said.
Huerfano could be the first:
In a blog report, Jason Ochs said, “Wyoming and Colorado has yet to have a single county or municipality join in the recovery. Having grown up in Colorado and now living in Wyoming, it was of particular interest to me to see which counties in each state were the hardest hit by the Opioid crisis.”
Steven Ochs told the commissioners this week there have been an estimated 70,000 U.S. deaths from opioid overdoses or other issues involving the drugs in people aged 18-to-54 years and some 500,000 deaths in the U.S. between 2000 and 2014.
He said rising health care costs, social problems, higher costs for social service agencies, law enforcement agencies and a growing homeless issue are all part of the opioid crisis. He said there were 47 overdose deaths in Trinidad in 2015 and that Huerfano County has had four or five deaths in recent years. Ochs said statistically, there are approximately 41 people with opioid addictions in Huerfano County, and unfortunately, that number is predicted to increase.
With the commissioners’agreement with Ochs, Huerfano County could be the first county in the state to take the opioid addiction problem into civil court.