FARMINGTON — Franklin County Commissioners on Tuesday declined to take action on a nationwide effort to sue pharmaceutical companies that make and distribute opiates, a move an attorney for the class-action lawsuit said is a “great disservice” to the county and could mean the loss of $50,000 to $1 million if the suit is successful.

To date, more than 20 counties and municipalities in Maine have joined the suit, which accuses manufacturers and distributors of opioids of fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of the drugs.

Only one other entity so far — Oxford County — has rejected the suit, though Sumner Lipman, an attorney for Lipman & Katz Attorneys at Law, said his firm is working to convince Oxford County to reconsider. He said Oxford was in the midst of personnel changes, and now that they have been resolved, the county has agreed to reconsider the suit.

“Franklin County will lose out on $50,000 to $1 million that other parts of the country will be receiving,” Lipman said. “We, the attorneys, are handling all the costs. Every other county basically sees this as a win-win, and for some reason the commissioners in Franklin County are denying their residents some of the money that will be received.”

There was no discussion about the suit during Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. Instead, commissioners moved to table the proposal indefinitely with no discussion.

District 2 Commissioner Charlie Webster said afterward he does not see the suit coming up again for consideration. He said commissioners “don’t want to become political” by joining the lawsuit.

Webster said that over time, several outside groups have approached Franklin County about joining lawsuits or other efforts, and the county tries to stay independent. He said he is not particularly opposed to the opioid lawsuit, though the two other commissioners, District 1 Commissioner Terry Brann and District 3 Commissioner Clyde Barker, have said they do oppose it.

“I’m not particularly opposed, but I think it’s a good policy that we don’t deal with that,” Webster said.

The lawsuit is being handled by Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, of New York City; Lipman & Katz, of Augusta; and Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette LLP, of Auburn, on behalf of several Maine municipalities and county governments.

Lipman said the attorneys approached all the counties and the state’s largest municipalities about joining the suit. None of the cities that were approached have said no. Among the counties, all have agreed to join the suit with the exception of Franklin, Knox and Oxford.

The suit is still under discussion in Knox County, Lipman said. Abby Shanor, clerk for the Oxford County commissioners, said in an email she could not comment on the lawsuit and was not fully aware of the situation.

Earlier this month in Franklin County, Brann and Barker said they felt the suit was unnecessary.

“Where is this going to end?” Brann said on Aug. 7. “Are we going to sue auto manufacturers because of accidents? Are we going to sue the alcohol industry because of accidents that occur? I don’t see a difference.”

Lipman responded to that statement Tuesday, saying, “If an auto manufacturer decided to sell a car it knew had a steering defect, they would be responsible for the injuries that car did. In this case, the drug manufacturers and distributors realized oxycodone is an extremely addictive drug; and rather than tell people that, they marketed it and said, ‘You want to use these drugs so you don’t feel any pain.’ That was the standard of care.”

“Maybe if Franklin County doesn’t have any drug addicts, I can understand it,” Lipman said. “But every other county has dealt with this. This is a national crisis.”

County Clerk Julie Magoon said after the Aug. 7 meeting the county had concerns the suit could jeopardize its relationship with Franklin Memorial Hospital.

Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, which runs hospitals in Bangor and Portland, has withdrawn from community partnerships in those cities, citing concern over the naming of individual physicians affiliated with their practices in the lawsuit.

But Magoon also said that concern had been cleared up, and Lipman said the relationship with the hospital was never at stake in Franklin County.

There would be no cost to the county to join the suit, though Webster said, “The odds of Franklin County getting any major financial benefit are remote.”

“It’s really the principle of whether we want to start becoming politicians,” he said. “The commissioners have had so many of these cases come in. What we don’t want is this to be a place where commissioners use it as a stepping off point to run for something else, where we put in resolutions and make public statements. That’s really not our job.”

“This is a win-win situation,” Lipman said. “If we lose the case — which I don’t think will happen — it’s not going to cost them anything. On the other hand, when the funds are distributed, how do they explain to their constituents that we don’t get a piece of the action when everyone else is getting compensated?”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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