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CHARLESTON -- The Coles County Board on Tuesday approved a declaration that will allow the county to sue drug companies for the costs of opioid overdoses.

The board followed State's Attorney Brian Bower's recommendation to take the position.

Bower has said joining the suit in which other counties are taking part would recover the "incredible costs" related to painkiller misuse, such as police and paramedic response and medical treatment.

The actual cost to the county has yet to be determined, according to Bower.

The declaration says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that last year there were nearly as many prescriptions for opioids in the county as there are people, and more in the two years before.

Information the CDC's website does show that level of painkiller prescriptions in Coles County for those years.

The declaration also addresses what medical experts say is a likelihood of painkiller misuse evolving into use of heroin and other illegal drugs.

Also, it states that the drug companies didn't meet their legal obligations to maintain control over the painkillers' distribution. Instead, it says, the companies' actions encouraged excessive prescriptions for the drugs, according to the declaration.

The association representing the drug companies mentioned in the declaration issued a statement in response, saying they recognize the problem and are willing to help address it but "aren’t willing to be scapegoats."

"We don’t make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines or dispense them to consumers," John Parker, vice president of Healthcare Distribution Alliance said in the statement.

"Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated," Parker also said.

The association represents AmerisourceBergen of Orlando, Fla.; Cardinal Health of Lakeland, Fla.; and McKesson Corp. of San Francisco.

Bower said the county board's approval of the declaration would authorize him to work with law firms in Edwardsville and other locations that are handling the lawsuits against the drug companies.

The board approved the declaration, without discussion, with an 11-0 vote. Vice Chairman Mark Degler didn't attend the meeting.

Also during Tuesday's meeting, board Chairman Stan Metzger made a proclamation declaring today "Dee Braden Day" in honor of the retiring executive director of the Coles County Council on Aging.

Braden attended the meeting and received a standing ovation from the board and those in the audience.

Today is also the day of a retirement open house for Braden, from 3-6 p.m., at the council's LifeSpan Center facility. She's retiring on Dec. 28 after 41 years as the agency's director.

The board also presented a certificate of appreciation to member Marc Weber, who's leaving his seat representing board District 3, Charleston, because he's moved out of the district.

Metzger said the board should be able to appoint someone to Weber's seat during its meeting next month.

In other votes Tuesday, the board:

  • Transferred $77,000 from a county clerk's revenue stamp fund to the county general fund so it can be used to purchase new voting equipment.
  • Approved an agreement with Pleasant Grove Township for the replacement of a large culvert at the Coles-Cumberland county line.
  • Set county Engineer Rick Johnson's salary for the year at $110,400, a level that would trigger partial state reimbursement.
  • Allocated $650,000 to the county townships for the annual agreement covering road maintenance.

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