OSSIPEE — With Carroll County joining the fray Wednesday and Coos joining in recent weeks, all 10 New Hampshire counties are suing the pharmaceutical industry over costs associated with the opioid crisis. Together, they seek $500 million.
The counties incur costs associated with police work, prosecution and incarceration. Carroll County government includes the county attorney’s office, a jail and the sheriff’s office.
Strafford County asked New Hampshire counties like Carroll to join the mass tort lawsuit in April of last year. The lawsuit was being handled by attorney Robert Bonsignore in conjunction with the nationwide law firm of Napoli Shkolnik.
A month later, a majority of then-Carroll County commissioners voted not to join and further voted that they could not join until after elections were held in November 2018 and a new board of commissioners was seated in January.
Then-commissioner Mark Hounsell (R-Conway), in a bid to prevent the topic from coming up again, called for a motion for reconsideration and voted against it along with commissioner David Babson.
On Primary Day, county voters tossed Hounsell and replaced him with Terry McCarthy (R-Conway). Babson, who didn’t have a challenger, was re-elected.
Carroll County Administrator Ken Robichaud said the commissioners were convinced to join after meeting with Strafford County Commissioners George Maglaras, who is the past president of the New Hampshire Association of Counties.
“Coos and Carroll were the only two that weren’t on board, and Coos signed on two weeks ago,” said Robichaud. “Because we have a new board George came up to see if they would be interested in having all 10 counties join.”
The decision was made in non-public session and then announced by chairwoman Amanda Bevard (R-Wolfeboro), who had wanted to join since the spring.
“I would like to announce that Carroll County has voted to join the other nine counties in the opioid lawsuit against the pharmaceutical suppliers and distributors,” said Bevard before moving onto other business.
According to Robichaud, the vote of the board Wednesday was unanimous.
Robichaud said that there will be no cost to the taxpayers.
“I guess they are talking $500 million,” Robichaud said. “Five hundred million is what the cost to the counties is since 2007.”
Robichaud said Maglaras told them that the crisis cost Stafford County alone $90 million.
The costs to Carroll County have not been estimated, Robichaud said.
“There’s a form we have to fill out,” he said. “It will be (for) all prosecution costs, all inmate costs, the sheriff’s transportation costs (and police work) since 2007 so that’s quite a bit.”
Robichaud said that Bonsignore will collect $125 million if the lawsuit is successful.
In the spring, Bonsignore said he would collect 25 percent of the winnings but not a dime if the counties lost.
In a phone interview, Jim Boffetti, associate attorney general of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, said the Attorney General’s Office has similar cases pending in Merrimack Superior Court and the cases involving New Hampshire cities and counties are being handled in a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio.
The New York Times reported in January that there are over 1,500 cases (nationwide) being dealt with by the Cleveland Federal Court.
Not everyone is pleased that the county is joining the lawsuit.
One critic of the decision, Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), took to governmentoversite.com’s Facebook to weigh in.
Governmentoverite.com is run by Rep. Ed Comeau (R-Brookfield). Comeau covers the county meeting with his video camera and had posted the news.
Both Cordelli and Comeau are on the county’s delegation, which sets county budgets which the commissioners manage.
“Why is a Strafford County commissioner involving himself in this matter? And why are the Carroll County commissioners getting involved?” asked Cordelli. “It’s not like they don’t have important things to attend to like getting control of their own county operations.”
But Robichaud said the commissioners are trying to help the taxpayers by getting reimbursed for its costs.
Governmentoversite.com contributed to this story.