Cole County will become the 11th county in Missouri to join in suing opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies.
The Cole County Commission approved a resolution and agreement Tuesday to have Eccher Law Group of St. Louis represent the county in the national lawsuit.
Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell said the county could receive money to help with treatment if the lawsuit results in a settlement.
"We'd use it to help with education and prevention," Campbell said. "We see most of the opioids being prescribed for older patients, but somehow, they are getting into the hands of younger people and leading to serious problems."
Commissioners agreed something should be done, but Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher questioned whether joining the lawsuit was the best course of action.
"I'll go along with signing the agreement, but we are a litigious society and I wonder how much of a difference this will actually make," Hoelscher said. "In the end, it will probably mean higher costs passed down to the consumer."
Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle said he understood Hoelscher's concerns but felt this could benefit the county.
"I don't like lawsuits either, but we have to try to get these people some help," Scheperle said. "They get hooked on these drugs. Then turn to crime to help pay for their addiction and then get caught and go to jail. That doesn't help."
There were 19 opioid overdose deaths in Cole County, 13 involving heroin and six involving prescription drugs between 2013-17, according to data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Between 2012-16, 369 Cole County residents made an emergency room visit because of opioid abuse, 33 due to heroin abuse.
"In Cole County, the majority of opioid prescriptions are given to females in the 65 or older age range," Campbell said. "They are not the ones who are dying, though. We have a disconnect between who is getting the drugs and who is dying from overdoses."
Most opioid-related deaths statewide occur in the 25-34 age group.
Last week, Jackson County filed paperwork in federal court saying the epidemic has burdened the county with opioid-related hospitalizations, emergency medical responses to overdoses, babies born in withdrawal, incarcerations and child welfare cases. More than 300 people died of opioid overdose deaths in Jackson County from 2013-17, the Kansas City Star reported.
The suit names 33 defendants, alleging they created a "public health epidemic" by using deceptive marketing and evading regulations on selling controlled substances, according to the Associated Press.
Among the defendants is Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Oxycontin, which has denied claims in lawsuits nationwide over the scourge of opioid abuse.
More than 300 cities, counties and states had filed lawsuits against the opioid industry as of February.
A federal judge in Cleveland has convened settlement talks between many of the interested parties in the opioid suits.