CHIPLEY -- Washington County commissioners aim to sue big pharma distributors and manufacturers, joining a number of other counties and cities in Northwest Florida.
The move comes after Panama City law firms Perry & Young and Bryant & Higby pitched the case to commissioners at a recent meeting. At 124.7 prescriptions per 100 people in the 2016 year, state data shows that Washington County leads the state in opioid prescribing rates.
"I am confident our commissioners will move forward with this," Commissioner Tray Hawkins said, speaking of the suit and the implications of the local opioid crisis, Thursday afternoon. "It's something that has touched so many families in Washington County."
"My vote would be to move forward with it," he added.
In response to the epidemic, City of Panama City in Bay County, as well as, Bay County Board of Commissioners, will file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, with the intent to use the money from the suit to deal with the effects of the epidemic.
Jackson County has also been approached.
Perry & Young and Byrant & Higby are looking to both Washington and Holmes counties governing bodies to do the same.
"The objective is to procure or get resources and bring them back to the community so that they can deal with cleaning up the mess created by the opioid distribution and manufacturing" companies, said Cliff Higby with Byrant & Higby.
"It's borderline shocking to hear how strained their resources are," he later added.
Although, he said, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to manage the opioid crisis in both Washington and Holmes is common "throughout the country," both counties "are being stressed financially by the epidemic."
How stressed? Washington spent upwards of about $750,000 fighting the epidemic, according to county officials, with half a million on law enforcement.
"Last year we committed (an estimated) $750,000 used to fight the opioid addiction," Hawkins said. "We are committed to give our sheriff what he needs" to manage the growing issue. "With this collective effort -- with whichever law firm we use -- we're excited of what we can do to help combat and alleviate the opioid epidemic in Washington County."
Attorney Larry Perry from Perry & Young was clear that the crisis is multifaceted, having many "tentacles," he said, including the social, criminal and interdiction elements of it. The funds from the suit would support the county for the past and future; the future "because once you slow down on the number of opioids that are prescribed ... it's going to take a while for that spigot to run dry."
"It's going to be a number of years before this, kind of, clears the system," Perry said.
He anticipated the suit could bring the county "in the multiple millions of dollars" to manage the crisis caused by the fray, which, according to officials, resulted from the over-prescribing of opioids.
Although a vote to decide whether to pursue the lawsuit has yet to happen, Commissioner Hawkins said commissioners are planning meet individually with attorneys from both law firms. And, following a workshop, have a vote by January.
"We're not going into this blindsided, we're going to vet each attorney," he said. The county will go with "the one that's best fit for our community and our needs."
Both firms are great, he noted.
Bay County Board of Commissioners Attorney Don Banks recommended the board pick Bryant and Higby. The consortium is responsible for recommending a number of legal teams that have filed a combined 110 suits out of 180 filed over recent years across the country.