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RSU 71 joins class action opioid lawsuit

By Kendra Caruso | Jul 31, 2020
Source: File photo

Belfast — The Regional School Unit 71 Board of Directors voted to join a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic at its July 27 meeting.

There was little discussion over the vote once members learned there would be no extra cost to the district outside of gathering district data for the suit. RSU 71 joins many other school districts around the country, including 30 in Maine, that are also parties to the lawsuit.

Five law firms from various parts of the country are representing plaintiffs in the case, including Portland-based Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, against several large pharmaceutical companies they say deceitfully marketed opioid medications to doctors and hospitals as non-addictive.

The district has not yet started working with the attorneys in the case, Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said. It is unknown what monetary compensation the school districts are eligible for, but that would be calculated based on how many students are in each district, she said.

The compensation requested is for damages incurred because of the consequences of opioid addiction, including children being born addicted and later suffering from developmental, behavioral and learning disabilities that schools have to  accommodate, according to the lawsuit.

Public schools nationwide are expected to provide $22 billion worth of support and services to children because of the opioid epidemic, according to attorneys in the case.

Numerous public schools across the country have joined the National Prescription Opioid Multi-District Litigation claim against Purdue Pharma in its bankruptcy proceedings. The company has been accused of using predatory practices to market its opioid medications such as OxyContin. Chicago Public Schools filed the claim on behalf of schools nationwide.

Judge Dan. A. Polster of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio  is considering the claim, along with numerous other claims against opioid pharmaceutical companies that have been consolidated.

July 30 was the last day school districts could join the litigation. Drummond Woodsum attorney Melissa Hewey said it is unclear when the judge will make a decision on the claim.

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