by Bill Knowles
TRINIDAD — Las Animas County Commissioners heard from Steven Ochs, of the Ochs Law Firm, located in Colorado Springs, concerning a class action lawsuit the firm is preparing against several of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in the country who have profited from the manufacture and sales of OxyContin and other opioid based pain relief products. Between 2001 and 2014, over 500,000 deaths nationally have happened due to opioid overdose. According to Ochs, that’s the Vietnam War death rate (about 59,000 people) dying because of opioids about every 11 months.
In 2016, the opioid death rate in the U.S. was about 60,000 people. In 2017 it was higher, with about 65,000 recorded overdose deaths, which are the latest figures. The projected death rate from opioids over the next seven years is estimated to be over 420,000. That’s greater than the 416,000 U.S. service men and women who died during World War II. “The annual death rate is increasing, not decreasing,” Ochs said. “Today’s war is on opioids is against big pharmaceutical companies and the big three opioid distributors. The majority of deaths from opioids are young people in the prime of their life, from 18 to 50 years old.”
The Ochs Law Firm would be suing 16 big pharmaceutical companies and three major distributors who have driven this crisis for profit. Eight of them named by Ochs are Purdue, Teva, Ceflon, Jansen, Johnson & Johnson. Among the distributors are AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Mallinckrodt. The opioid epidemic is a driver of joblessness and homelessness.
Over the course of the last three U.S. wars, 3.6 million veterans have returned, many of them damaged physically and psychologically, a factor which is also pushing the demand for narcotics. The financial collapse of the banking, credit and housing markets in 2008 has also encouraged the abuse of opioids through job loss and foreclosures. “Big pharma recognized this and exploited it,” opines Ochs. Another twist to the opioid epidemic: Narcan, the medication that can stop an overdose in progress is made by the same pharmaceutical companies who manufacture OxyContin. So far they have made around $17 billion from the sales of Narcan. The law firm is touring the state seeking counties who want to join the lawsuit. To date only Huerfano County has signed up. Las Animas County Commissioners are still considering the offer.
The layout plan for Perry Stokes Airport was also discussed. The FAA is looking for a letter and map of the plan, which is based on the airport master plan. Without the plan and the letter, the FAA is holding up the last of the grant reimbursements for the runway and lighting improvements completed last year at the airport. The county will need that project completed so they can move on to the environmental study that will be conducted by the Brownsfield Corporation. With that study, grant funding can be procured and the environmental problems at the airport can be remedied. The problems exist due to past leakage in fuel tanks. With commissioner Mack Louden absent from the meeting, commissioners Luis Lopez and Dean Moltrer voted 2-0 to table the action until Louden returns. In other business the commissioners voted 2-0 to approve the fees and map for the Branson gravel pit.
They also accepted the Las Animas County Public Trustee’s quarterly report with a 2-0 vote. The posting locations for the bi-monthly meeting agendas and notices will remain at the west entrance of the courthouse and at the entrance of the commission meeting chamber on the second floor of the courthouse. With a 2-0 vote Moltrer and finance/ budget director Kristee Coberly were appointed to serve on the Bi-County Revolving Loan Fund and Business Loan Review Committee. County administrator Pete Fraser was appointed as the alternate.
Lopez was appointed to serve as the representative on the board of the South Central Council of Governments with a 2-0 vote. Lopez was also selected as the primary representative for the Otero Partners Inc. board is Lopez with Fraser as the alternate. Both were selected with a 2-0 vote.
A payment of $10,000 due to 360 Engineering, the company that designed the repairs and environmental systems for the Las Animas County Courthouse, was approved on a 2-0 vote as the commission came out of executive session. The commission also voted 2-0 to not use 360 Engineering to carry through with the repairs and design work.