YMC Board considers joining national opioid litigation

GRANITE FALLS — The Yellow Medicine County Board will consider becoming part of nationwide litigation against manufacturers of opioid drug products.

At Tuesday’s county board meeting, County Attorney Keith Helgeson outlined the nationwide status of class action lawsuits by local government units for taxpayer costs incurred from increased opioid addiction. Potential cost issues include human services, chemical health treatment, emergency response, unemployment expenses and housing subsidies.

“There’s a trend toward class action,” Helgeson said. “So far it’s happened mostly in large cities and urban counties. The firm that inquired represents Duluth and Rochester.”

He said it’s possible to enter into the legal process without incurring any costs. Firms that organize large class action lawsuits usually get a percentage of settlements plus legal costs. One of the clauses can stipulate that there will be no cost to participants if legal costs exceed damages that are collected.

The scope of legal claims extends beyond the basic health impacts of opioid products. Issues also include marketing practices and fraudulent claims.

He advised the board that costs to the county would be restricted to “in kind” labor performed by staff in order to furnish information useful to class action attorneys.

“I wouldn’t expect much of a cost,” Helgeson said. “The biggest question is whether or not we could collect a significant amount of money. Even it’s only a small amount, a little is still more than nothing.”

After a short discussion, the board voted to table the measure for two weeks to allow commissioners to collect information about opioid health issues.

“I want to do some research,” said Commissioner Gary Johnson. “It’s worth considering. I know it’s costing us money, and it’s likely to get worse.”

The board also voted on Tuesday to approve a low price quote for asbestos inspection at the former Clarkfield public school.

The county’s share of the cost totals $4,886. The Clarkfield City Council will consider matching the total. An inspection can then take place, and would provide information needed for abatement planning.

Asbestos must be removed prior to a demolition of the school since airborne particles would become a health hazard.

Along with the need for council approval, Tuesday’s board action is contingent upon a willingness of Apex Envirocare Ltd. of Madison Lake as the low vendor to agree to a hold harmless clause.

This would place responsibility for any incomplete removal on the contractor rather than the city, county or the Yellow Medicine East School District.

Clarkfield City Administrator Amanda Luepke said the eventual scope of the demolition will depend on a cost comparison of two options for the newer gymnasium.

One possibility is to keep the gym area and use it for a public purpose such as a community center. If bid costs indicate that a complete demolition is more economical than a partial demolition plus conversion expenses, the city could opt for a fully cleared space.

“We want to see all of the costs,” Luepke said. “There would be some value to having the gym area, but it’s also important to make the best investment for city taxpayers.”

The former school is located in an area equal to two centrally located city blocks. It was Clarkfield’s K-12 school campus until 1990, and then served as a Yellow Medicine East building until 2008.