Kewaunee County has joined a large majority of Wisconsin counties in filing suit against “Big Pharma” for misrepresenting the dangers of opioid addiction.

The County Board voted in December to engage the law firms von Briesen & Roper SC, Crueger Dickson LLC, and Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, becoming one of about 60 counties to do so.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages from Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and subsidiaries of the companies, Erin Dickinson of Crueger Dickinson told reporters at a November news conference in West Bend.

“These companies’ aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers as safe and effacacious for long-term use has led to a drug epidemic in both Wisconsin and around the nation,” Dickinson said.

Corporation Counsel Jeff Wisnicky told the County Board that the firms are pursuing the case on a contingency basis with no direct costs to the counties unless they win.

“This is a classic contingency fee kind of case, wherein if the law firm is successful in there’s some sort of settlement or judgment, then of course they would take any costs out of that settlement or judgment, but should they not be successful then we wouldn’t be responsible for the cost,” Wisnicky said. “Now, just like anything, if something goes off the rails, there could be some costs incurred, but I have to believe that the intent is that we would not incur any costs.”

Wisnicky added that indirect costs, such as staff time, might occur as legal teams investigate the specific damages to Kewaunee County in terms of program costs, law enforcement costs, and other efforts to fight the opioid crisis.

Supervisor Diane Thomas asked if any settlement funds would go to the county’s general fund or to Health and Human Services, which have borne the brunt of the fight thus far.

Wisnickey and County Board Chairman Robert Weidner said it would probably start in the general fund with the Finance Committee discussing how to allocate the money, but the resolution does not address those details.

“That would be a good problem to have,” Weidner said.

The board voted 19-1 to approve the resolution, with Supervisor Chris Rasmussen dissenting.