Butte-Silver Bow is not joining Cascade and Gallatin counties in a lawsuit that private firms have filed against opioid manufacturers.
Commissioners voted 7-4 Wednesday night against joining the lawsuit, which claims that counties have spent big money combatting an opioid addiction crisis caused by "fraudulent marketing and sales manufacturers."
Before the vote, Commissioner Dan Foley said the council should resist the trend in American society and culture "where we want to sue everyone."
The firms want Anaconda-Deer Lodge County to join as well, but that city-county's chief executive, Bill Everett, said Thursday that officials haven't taken up the issue. He plans to meet with someone from the firms on Jan. 23 to learn more about the lawsuit, he said.
The litigation is separate from a state lawsuit Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has filed against Purdue Pharma, makers of the opioid drug OxyContin. That suit says the company lied to conceal dangers of the drug and created thousands of addicts.
The lawsuit pursued by private attorneys is led by the firm of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, based in Dallas, and includes affiliated Montana firms.
A proposed retention agreement with Butte-Silver Bow said the firms would collect attorney's fees and 25 percent of any money damages recovered in the suit. If there were no money damages, the firms would get nothing.
Eileen Joyce, Butte-Silver Bow's county attorney, said only Cascade and Gallatin counties in Montana have joined the lawsuit so far. This suit names more drug makers than the state's suit, she said, but both involve complex legal issues.
Commissioners Jim Fisher and John Sorich said Butte-Silver Bow should join that lawsuit since it could result in substantial financial damages flowing to local government here.
"If they get billions of dollars or millions of dollars, we're going to get a good share of that," Fisher said.
He said damages from the state's lawsuit might be divided among 56 counties and amount to very little. He also said the state has done a poor job handling Superfund issues in Butte.
But Foley said nobody has clear data on the opioid problem in Butte-Silver Bow and there were other addiction problems related to alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine.
People bore some individual responsibility for those addictions, he said, and the private firms on this matter "are here to make money."
"If we want to join the world of lawsuits and 'let's sue everybody every time there is an issue,' then that's fine, but I would urge you to do that on a personal level and not collectively to represent this entire community," he said.
The majority joined Foley in voting against joining the lawsuit. The four who favored it were Fisher, Sorich, Dan Callahan, and Bill Andersen. Sheryl Ralph was absent.