West Tisbury selectmen voted to join the Kopelman and Paige opioid lawsuit Wednesday night, becoming the fourth Vineyard town to do so after Chilmark, Aquinnah, and Oak Bluffs.
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell, who became chairman at the top of the meeting after the board commenced with its annual role shuffle, led the discussion by reading into the record an email from Lauren Goldberg. Goldberg led a presentation on the suit to the Up-Island selectmen at Howes House in early April. Among the facts she covered in her email was that 75 Massachusetts cities and towns had already joined the suit.
Selectmen Skipper Manter wasn’t impressed by that figure.
“75 out of 351 isn’t a lot of participation,” he said. “I’m reluctant.” The suit constitutes a windfall for lawyers instead of a helping hand for municipalities, Manter said. “Because they insist on going after the deepest pockets of the pharmaceutical companies, and not after the other people who are just as responsible — doctors and other healthcare professionals who are prescribing these doses of drugs in large quantities, just because they’re covered by insurance.”
Manter also said he was concerned that nobody is monitoring the lawyers with regard to the time they accrue toward their 25 percent of any verdict or settlement. It would take “a lot of time and effort” to produce the town documents and materials the suit demands, and such requests would be even more burdensome for larger cities and towns, he said.
“I understand opioid issues, as well as anybody else. I’ve been to more than one fatal overdose, and they’re disturbing and they are taking a toll on our society …” he said.
Manter went on to say alcohol made for an even greater crisis, but it’s receiving far less attention.
“I agree with most of what Skipper says,” selectman Kent Healy said. “Basically I don’t think the town could help the lawyers make a case. I don’t think that this is going to be the most effective way to cut back on the use of opioids.”
“Well, I respectfully but vehemently disagree with both of you,” Mitchell said. “I think this is an opportunity to join something that may be as significant as the tobacco lawsuits were. Even though anecdotally we hear on the Vineyard that opioid use is really second to alcohol use as a problem, clearly in so many communities in this country, it’s a horrific plague on families.”
While there may be time involved, there was “literally no risk” to joining the suit, Mitchell said.
“I also disagree that the pharmaceutical companies aren’t the proper targets,” she said. “I think they are. They’re benefiting immensely.”
Mitchell, who is CEO of Island Healthcare in Edgartown, said national attention on the crisis has changed prescription practices already.
“If we can build on that and be part of a fairly dramatic solution, we should be ashamed if we don’t,” she said.
After a modest amount of additional deliberation, the selectmen voted unanimously to join the suit.
In other business, on the recommendation of Police Chief Matt Mincone, the selectmen voted 2-0 to promote Matt Gebo, a nine-year veteran of the West Tisbury Police Department, to sergeant.
Manter, who was recently promoted from sergeant, creating the vacancy, abstained from the vote because he is a lieutenant in the department.