Citing costs related to the ongoing opioid epidemic, Delaware County has joined a legal fight against multiple distributors and makers of pain medications.

County commissioners Feb. 1 voted to appoint the Delaware law firm Taft Stettinius and Hollister to represent the county in ongoing multidistrict litigation against companies that made and distributed opioid medications.

Commissioner Barb Lewis said she voted to pursue the lawsuit because the firms bear some responsibility for the epidemic, which she said "crippled our community."

"I (voted to proceed) because they owe us and should help us pay the costs of the terrible damage they have caused," she said.

Lewis said the epidemic has led to personal tragedies for many county families, as well as increased costs for county taxpayers related to emergency-medical and addiction-recovery services.

"Joining this litigation on a contingent recovery-fee basis will not cost Delaware County any money and in the long run will save thousands of taxpayer dollars," she said.

Commissioner Gary Merrell said he views joining the litigation as the practical decision.

"I do feel that in my role as a commissioner I have a fiscal responsibility for this county and the taxpayers in this county," he said. "I believe there will ultimately be a settlement and, if we don't participate in this, then the taxpayers in this county would not be able to participate in that settlement."

Merrell said he did have some philosophical problems with voting to proceed with the lawsuit, because the defendants do not include doctors who overprescribed opioid medications.

"(Some) of the villains in this are not part of the lawsuit, and they're not being affected and paying their fair share," he said.

David Butler, partner at Taft Stettinius and Hollister, said the suit would be filed in federal district court in the Southern District of Ohio. He said the litigation then will join the ongoing multidistrict litigation being overseen by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland.

"There are hundreds of lawsuits that are currently up in this multidistrict litigation, so this lawsuit would join the others in Ohio and throughout the country," he said.

Butler said Polster has expressed hopes that the litigation would be resolved before the end of 2018.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@twgallick