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Pittsburgh, Allegheny County to hire law firm to study suing opioid makers

Theresa Clift
| Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 5:00 p.m.
Patrick Sison/AP

Allegheny County has hired a South Carolina law firm to explore whether the county should file a lawsuit against prescription opioid manufacturers, distributors and prescribers to recoup public money spent as a result of the opioid crisis.

The city of Pittsburgh also plans to hire the firm for the same purpose, pending City Council approval, officials said Tuesday.

The firm, Motley Rice, has offices in nine states, including one in Morgantown, W.Va.

The county will pay the firm 20 percent of whatever recovery the county receives after the firm's costs are deducted, said Allegheny County solicitor Andrew Szefi, via spokeswoman Amie Downs.

“If we get zero, they get zero,” Szefi said.

If no suit is filed, the county will not pay the firm.

Motley Rice is representing the states of Alaska, Kentucky, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and 13 municipalities in opioid-related litigation, according to its website .

Chicago; Erie County, Pa.; Newark, N.J.; and Akron, Ohio, are among the municipalities represented.

Allegheny County had 650 drug overdose deaths in 2016, up from 424 in 2015, records show.

Since 2008, more than 3,500 overdose deaths have been reported in the county, a news release from the city and county said.

The county pays to address the issue via its departments of health, human services, medical examiner, jail and police, the release said.

“This epidemic is not only tearing apart families across Pittsburgh but greatly tapping the resources of first responders in our medic, fire and police bureaus,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “Pharmaceutical companies that have made billions off painkillers need to start paying governments that are on the front lines addressing the havoc they have created.”

Motley Rice will determine the costs incurred as a result of the manufacture, distribution, prescription and use/abuse of opioids, and what the damages might be.

Beaver, Westmoreland and Washington counties filed similar lawsuits last year.

The county issued a Request for Proposals seeking firms for the service Dec. 8, after former Allegheny County Councilman Ed Kress introduced legislation Nov. 21.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, or via Twitter @tclift.

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