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Teton County Decides Not To Go It Alone On Opioid Lawsuit

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Teton County Commissioners recently voted not to file a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

They had considered suing after noticing that almost eight percent of the deaths in the county were opioid-related over the last couple years, according to Teton County Commission Chairman Mark Newcomb. He said those rates could rise in the future since Teton County is in a special situation.

“We have a community that does tend to take risks and we have ski areas and mountain bike trails and plenty of opportunity for folks to have an accident and need to go to the hospital and deal with pain,” Newcomb said. “If there’s a very high level of opiate prescription, it just increases the probability that we’re going to have impacts.”

Newcomb said the commission was persuaded not to sue opioid companies because the state attorney general’s office has a track record of successfully tackling big cases like this one.

“So I think largely it was really the state attorney general’s access to really wide and comprehensive databases and ability to partner with other states that seemed to be attractive to Teton County.”

Newcomb said, in the past, the state also worked on cases against the tobacco industry. He said, if the county did hire a lawyer to file on their behalf, up to 25-percent of the money recovered in a lawsuit would go to a private law firm instead of to the public affected by the problem.

The attorney general currently has several lawyers investigating the opioid company, Allergen, but has not officially announced it will file suit. Carbon County and the Northern Arapaho Tribe have opted to separately file a lawsuit against opioid companies.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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