County panel backs legal action to recoup costs of opioid epidemic

Attorney Melissa Sims, seen here with McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp, and Tuesday’s McLean County Board Executive Committee meeting.
(Photo by Howard Packowitz/WJBC)


By Howard Packowitz

BLOOMINGTON – McLean County government is a step closer to suing drug manufacturers and distributors to compensate taxpayers for opioid epidemic costs.

The County Board’s Executive Committee Tuesday night recommended the full board hire a law firm to handle the litigation.

Committee member and retired Judge William Caisley was the only no vote. He worried about a conflict of interest if elected officials voting on the proposal have a financial stake in any of the long list of companies accused of not stopping the flow of the highly-addictive painkillers.

Caisley also doesn’t want the county involved in a long-term legal fight, citing decades-old McLean County lawsuits seeking damages for asbestos exposure.

“There still is a file cabinet over in the circuit clerk’s office that’s filled with those files, and then some,” said Caisley.

“I don’t think we can be convinced that this is gonig to be a short-term thing,” Caisley added.

Lawyer Melissa Sims says out-of-court settlements are possible as soon as this fall, depending on the outcome of a couple of Ohio cases.

We are going to be asking for actual damages, plus punitive damages. Punitive damages are three times the actual cost. That is what has already been alleged in the litigation,” said Sims.

“There are over 2,000 lawsuits currently on file, so there’s a myriad of damages, penalties that we will be asking for.”

About a third of Illinois counties have sued the various companies, according to Sims. In McLean County, she found there were 35.5 million opioid doses between January 2012 and October 2017.

“It’s not the people who are legitimately going to their Doctor, it’s those that are being funneled into the black market that (McLean County Sheriff) Jon Sandage and the state’s attorney have to deal with, the ramifications of that, and put a burden on your court system,” Sims said.

The county would pay Sims, and the Sanders Phillips Grossman law firm in which she is a partner, 25 percent of damages awarded in a lawsuit.

Howard Packowitz can be reached at


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