Franklin County Government Center

Franklin County is still fighting its own lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors and prescribers, but discussions also are being held about joining a settlement effort led by state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. 

While the other 20 counties the law firm of Carey Danis & Lowe are representing are still having their cases heard in federal court, Jefferson and Franklin counties have been remanded back to the state, said attorney Jack Garvey, who is handling the cases for the St. Louis firm.

The parties in the case feel it is better to work on one jurisdiction’s case at a time, Garvey said.

“Franklin County, right now, is in kind of a dormant state, as we are working up the Jefferson County case,” Garvey said. “I think the idea is that once that case is completed, we would move on to Franklin County or settle. We would include it within the Jefferson County settlement.”

Franklin and the other counties were not involved in the negotiations between Schmitt and Johnson & Johnson, as well as three major opioid distributors, Garvey said. But Schmitt’s office will not be able to recover part of that settlement money unless it reaches an agreement with the counties.

“The deal is laden with all of these bonuses and incentives for the parties to work out a deal,” Garvey said.

So Garvey has started the process of negotiating with Schmitt’s office, he said. They have until Jan. 2, 2022, to reach an agreement.

“We have talked by phone. We have not met in person yet,” Garvey said.

Should the county and attorney general’s office reach a deal, conditions would require a significant portion of money received go toward opioid-related treatment programs for the county and state, Garvey said. 

“The deal would stretch out over 18 years and involve a total of more than $455 million for the state,” Garvey said.

That doesn’t include money coming from bankruptcy settlements from Purdue and Mallinckrodt pharmaceutical companies, which could mean more money down the line, Garvey said. “And possibly other defendants,” he added.

Schmitt has said unless the separate lawsuits are dropped by the end of 2021, the state’s settlement amount could be reduced by about half, according to the Southeast Missourian. Schmitt has been traveling the state to encourage counties and cities to drop their own opioid litigation and join the state settlement.

Garvey said the severity of the opioid problem in Franklin and Jefferson counties could have impacted the decision to move those suits to state court. “We’re one of the few cases that have included all of the opioid players,” he said. “From manufacturers to prescription benefit managers — it kind of gives a whole portrait of the problem to a jury.”

Franklin County is working closely with attorneys. Garvey said he talks on nearly a daily basis with Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker, “who is very involved and very motivated.”

Schmitt’s office could not be reached for comment Thursday.