The county will begin a multistep legal process to potentially file a lawsuit against manufacturers of opioids to recover the costs to taxpayers related to the drug, including the expenses of law enforcement, incarceration and addiction treatment.

Galveston County Commissioners Court on Monday voted unanimously to authorize County Judge Mark Henry to request the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts review and approve the county to contract with law firms on a contingent fee basis.

The state must approve contingent fee contracts, said Robert Boemer, an attorney for the county. Commissioners court would still need to vote on a contingent fee contract with the law firms, which would allow the firms to sue on behalf of the county and collect a fee from any money awarded, he said. The suit would not cost the county, he said.

Several law firms, including Watts Guerra LLP and The Gallagher Firm LLP, have explored an agreement between the county and the firms to recover costs related to opioid abuse in Galveston County.

Two representatives met with Henry and county legal recently to discuss a potential lawsuit against manufacturers of opioids.

If the county sued, it would be one of several municipalities nationwide who have lodged challenges against opioid manufacturers with the hope of stemming an epidemic. Harris and Bexar counties in Texas have both moved toward filing similar lawsuits, Henry said.

The small East Texas county of Upshur filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last month against prescription painkiller manufacturers and distributors.

In September, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the state had joined a coalition of 40 others in serving subpoenas against eight companies that manufacture or distribute prescription painkillers to collect information. The intent is to evaluate whether the companies engaged in unlawful practices, he said in a statement.

The county’s exploration of a lawsuit stems from allegations that certain opioid manufacturers have engaged in “negligent and reckless promotion of opioid painkillers for inappropriate uses,” the court order approved by Galveston County commissioners said.

The county did not yet have a list of potential manufacturers that may be the target of a lawsuit, Boemer said. Representatives from Watts Guerra LLP and The Gallagher Firm LLP did not respond to requests for comment.

While the county doesn’t know the exact cost of opioid abuse in Galveston County, the county’s criminal justice system sees its effects nearly daily, District Attorney Jack Roady said.

The justice system frequently sees addiction-related cases due to opioids such as Oxycodone and cases of children entering into the state’s child services system because parents are addicted to prescription opioids and no longer caring for their children, Roady said.

The expenses also show up in providing emergency medical services for people who have overdosed or nearly overdosed on prescription pills or the street drugs many opioid addicts turn to when they don’t have access to pills, he said.

That’s just the economic toll.

“We’re fighting those battles in every part of the county,” Roady said. “The idea is to recover taxpayer funds that the county has had to extend over the years in all those areas, including caring for families, legal and medical costs.”

The law firms did not respond this week. But representatives discussed suing major pharamecutical companies, Henry said. The companies have not yet been named, he said.

“The only targets here really are the pharmaceutical companies,” Henry said. “These businesses are not in Galveston County, no businesses here would be sued.”

In recent memory, the county has filed just one other lawsuit on a contingent fee basis, Boemer said. That lawsuit was against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association over damages from Hurricane Ike in 2008, he said.

Marissa Barnett: 409-683-5257;

Senior Reporter

(6) comments

PD Hyatt

As our government make it harder and harder to get drugs to fight pain, people who truly need them have a more difficult time obtaining them.... Some where there has to be a balance where people who truly need them can get them without jumping through so man hoops to obtain them....

Randy Chapman

Actions that are being taken by the states will cause a huge surge in the use of heroin. Of course, the states can't do anything to the cartels that provide heroin. It's too much trouble, and less lucrative to local law enforcement. Just the legal companies that provide painkillers are targeted. Talk about low hanging fruit! Well, maybe even worse; rotten fruit that fell off the tree...

glenn COFFEy

truly the inmates are running the asylum. would you sue the miner of the lead because you shot yourself in the foot

Natalie Malphrus

Big pharma is an easy target but they just produce the drugs. It’s the doctors that prescribe the drugs that we need to go after. We see news stories frequently about Drs over prescribing and even prescribing when the patients have no need.

Ray Taft

Commissioners Court claims they want to bring more businesses into Galveston County. Apparently, they think suing drug manufacturers is the way to attract businesses. Yet another reason why businesses will stay away from Galveston County.

The law suit, new debt with the passing of the bond, and the Harvey devastation with Commissioners Court unwillingness to give property owners tax relief through reappraisal will all scare away businesses.

Kelly Naschke

Will the county be filing suit against the Sinaloa Cartel too? This is ridiculous.

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