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County planning lawsuit against opioid industry

LIHUE — The County of Kauai is planning to sue the manufacturers, marketers and distributors of opioids.

Reminiscent of lawsuits against big tobacco companies, Kauai County will be the first county in Hawaii to pursue this type of litigation.

“This is not about doctors or hospitals,” Mauna Kea Trask, county attorney, said during Wednesday’s County Council meeting.

The council voted unanimously to support Trask’s request.

Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa said this is something he’s glad Kauai is first on.

“This case, I mean, we know that we have issues and you being the first one to go, I say congratulations and how can we help? This is my question,” Kagawa said.

Trask said over 300 million prescriptions were written nationwide for opioids in 2015. Opioids have claimed 175,000 lives from 1999-2013 and are recognized as one of the worst drug epidemics ever and the deaths are comparable to the rate of deaths from AIDS in the early 90s, Trask said.

“What we’ve seen in the County of Kauai, last year, there was about 520 grams of heroin seized in all of 2017, that’s almost a pound. At this point, this year alone, we’ve had over 580 grams, that’s about a pound and a quarter of heroin (seized), and we’re only in April. We’re expecting two to three times more by the end of the year, which is an amazing, unfortunate statistic,” Trask said.

Research shows, he said, that the medical community is responding to a brilliant marketing campaign.

“In some ways, marketing disguised as education that led them to believe that risks of addiction had been overblown. It led them to believe that they had been allowing patients to suffer needlessly, that they needed to be more compassionate and prescribe opioids more liberally,” Trask said.

“And that campaign was riddled with misinformation.”

Those companies, he said, are some of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, with revenues in the billions.

The amount of damages the county will be pursuing in the suit will be proven during the trial, he said.

“It will include fines, fees, punitive damages and compensatory damages to cover the costs associated with housing, police, fire, health care costs, drug rehabilitation services, criminal justice system costs, Parks and Recreation and the loss of life and quality of life of Kauai’s citizens,” Trask said.

The county will be conducting a nationwide search for special counsel to conduct the litigation. Due to the nature of the lawsuit, Trask said they’ll enter into a contingency agreement and won’t incur costs until a settlement or verdict is reached.

Council Chair Mel Rapozo asked Trask if he knew a ballpark figure of what the settlement or verdict might be.

“One of the reasons this is a matter necessitating special council is because it takes an extreme amount of expertise and organization to really find out, to go through our books and audit everything, identify what our compensatory damages would be,” Trask said.

“It’s the start of a long battle,” Rapozo said after the presentation.

Councilmember Derek Kawakami said he supports this endeavor, because the majority of funds in the Hawaii tobacco settlement were not spent on Kauai.

“Opioid abuse is a serious issue and threat to our community, and the time for action is now,” said Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. in a press release. “To be clear, this is not a fight against hospitals or medical providers. We are pursuing litigation against manufacturers, marketers and distributors of opioid pain medications, who have irresponsibly spread this terrible epidemic upon our community.”


Bethany Freudenthal, courts, crime and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or

  1. Joe Public April 11, 2018 4:11 pm Reply

    At least one person in government is willing to initiate and take action to protect it’s citizens. Good job Mauna, ever think about running for Mayor one day?

    Keep up the good work, thank you.

  2. Dude April 11, 2018 5:12 pm Reply

    Great?! Politicians blame large corporation for whatever then sue them with the power of the government and taxpayers money behind them then pocket the dough for future campaign contributions. Brilliant!

  3. Chalie Chimknee April 11, 2018 8:29 pm Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    It’s pretty clear that the chiropractors have proven that when your back and neck are out of alignment that you will have back and back pain and other side effects that being out of alignment will cause. Headaches, extremity problems, and internal problems the list is huge where chiropractic gets results where drugs and surgery have failed.

    Medical doctors are NOT trained in chiropractic and have NO idea about that science except for the competition chiropractors cause medical doctors.

    Medical failure to REFER patients in pain and other conditions is one of the primary causes of the spread of the opioid epidemic.

    We can’t ignore the selfish drive of getting a patient on opioids, they have to keep coming back for more office visits and related charges…indefintely.

    If the chiropractors remove the cause of your pain why take opioids…?



  4. P. Oda April 12, 2018 6:41 am Reply

    This type of action may have a real negative effect on disabled people who responsibly take pain Meds. what next – sue the beverage companies for making soda or candy manufacturers because sugar is addictive and leads some to become diabetic with a lower life expectancy? Where does personal responsibility to follow the prescription as written come in? MDs do a great job making sure their patients needs what is prescribed as regulated by the CDC and FDA.

    1. Charlie Chimknee April 12, 2018 11:11 pm Reply

      Aloha P. Oda, well not a bad idea suing the soda companies to stop their sales of sugar; but that would be barely scratching the surface of the problem.

      You see if you read the ingredients of every packaged food, bottle drinks, and canned food at the stores on Kauai or America you will see that almost every single food on every single shelf, except for a rare food or brand, has 1 or more sugars in their food.

      Almost all foods now have more than 1 sugar in the food; and it has been said by medical researchers that the reason is, that it is cheaper to put more sugar in the food than it is to put real food. Imagine the profits made by big food corporations when they hold back 100’s of thousands of tons of real food (like corn, wheat, etc., in a whole year and replace it with cheap sugars.

      These companies are so big even if the lost a lawsuit they would still keep going. (Too big to Fail…! ! !) comes to mind.

      The University of California at San Francisco, Medical Center, shows there are 61 sugars currently added to foods:
      Agave nectar
      Barbados sugar
      Barley malt
      Barley malt syrup
      Beet sugar
      Brown sugar
      Buttered syrup
      Cane juice
      Cane juice crystals
      Cane sugar
      Carob syrup
      Castor sugar
      Coconut palm sugar
      Coconut sugar
      Confectioner’s sugar
      Corn sweetener
      Corn syrup
      Corn syrup solids
      Date sugar
      Dehydrated cane juice
      Demerara sugar
      Evaporated cane juice
      Free-flowing brown sugars
      Fruit juice
      Fruit juice concentrate
      Glucose solids
      Golden sugar
      Golden syrup
      Grape sugar
      HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
      Icing sugar
      Invert sugar
      Malt syrup
      Maple syrup
      Palm sugar
      Powdered sugar
      Raw sugar
      Refiner’s syrup
      Rice syrup
      Sorghum Syrup
      Sugar (granulated)
      Sweet Sorghum
      Turbinado sugar
      Yellow sugar.

      Can we consider sugar as a mild drug, providing a high, and an addiction of a sort. We can compare sugars with other plant based sources of drugs.

      Sugar from plants can be processed into a white or other colored powders.

      Sugar from plants is easily processed into a white powder. Kids get high on it and so do adults get a subtle high, right here on Kauai.

      Cocaine from plants is easily processed into a white powder. Older “kids” and adults get high on it,

      Heroin from plants is easily processed into a white powder. Older “kids” and adults get high on it, right here on Kauai.

      The difference is that sugar is taken with almost every bite of food in your entire life. Add to that the drinks included.

      Everyones getting high, what kind of a society is that. Especially when it is a known fact that sugar causes obesity, and diabetes, and is inital steps in heart and vascular diseases (stroke), and is involved with cancers and inflammations, etc.

      Sue sugar companies? It’s bigger than that. But you can Protect Yourself. Be strong…abstain.



  5. TruthBeTold April 12, 2018 7:38 am Reply

    The epidemic was gonna happen after Dr Sian Evans and the Shapiro brothers saturated the island with the pill mill.

    The county should have been prepared a decade ago. Mexican Drug cartels deeply are invested in the rackets of drug imports and sales using their chronic as and junkies with the help of county, state and federal employees to facilitate the meth/heroin epidemic in the state and on Kauai.

    This is a multinational criminal organization that have our own public officials and citizens poison the islands for profits.

    This is the truth to be told. We have corrupt judicial employees and cops in the islands that leak info to the junkies and sleeper cells.

    Trash doesnt have the (guts) to go after the big boys (his colleagues).

    Truth be told.

  6. RG DeSoto April 12, 2018 7:43 am Reply

    Great, Kagawa & Rapozo…who’s going to pay for this suit which could cost ~$100 million dollars to pursue? Of course it’s all other people’s (taxpayers) money so who cares what the cost…right?
    Seems more like money grubbing than anyone genuinely concerned about addicts.
    RG DeSoto

    1. Charlie Chimknee April 12, 2018 11:39 pm Reply

      Aloha RG,

      Atty Trask did make it clear that the County was looking for attorneys who would work on a Contingency basis…meaning no $$$ out of Kauai County’s pocket…win or lose, it’s free to Kauai.

      Big Tobacco paid large years ago, so maybe Kauai stands a chance since this is a nation wide problem. Overdose deaths being one of them.

      But Mr. Trask is not putting any Kauai $$$ on line or up for a loss.

      The problem is that Big Pharm (pharmacy) is probably 1,000 times bigger and tougher in court than Big Tobacco. They are the core of the medical profession. If there were no drugs there would be no medical profession.

      The Drug/Medical Industry takes home $4,000,000,000,000.00, yes $4 Trillion dollars a year. Or, 20% of our national debt. And all of this is spent on Disease Care, none of it directed at finding the causes of disease, though now honest scientists are revealing that the food provided to us all during our lives is mostly chemical food. And when we get sick we go to the doctor and they give us more chemicals…drugs. We are modern artificial bodies, geared to break down to the tune of $4 Trillion dollars a year and it is mandatory you must have medical insurance when perhaps you already provide yourself, personally, and in protest, actual Health Care. Doctors provide Disease Care and the Treatments for that care, the drugs and surgery are HELLth Care.

      Doctors prescribe opioids abusively; later during their patients with their doctor induced addiction problem, the doctor cuts the patient off from the addictive drugs and causes the addict / patient to have to go to the opioid street dealer and they use a different brand.

      Brand “H”…Heroin…Call your favorite Cartel…however, the men (and women) at the top of this legitimate, but unethical, Pharmaceutical Cartel…are wearing suits and ties. Some wear stethoscopes.



  7. Jake April 12, 2018 8:52 am Reply

    No personal accountability or responsibility.

    This is simply pandering by the County, and County Attorney.

    What is next…..sue the food companies because 75% of the American population are overweight or OBESE? …….costing billions and billions in related Healthcare costs.

    Because, you know, ……everyone is a victim.

    1. Charlie Chimknee April 12, 2018 11:48 pm Reply

      Jake, you sarcastically say the county should sue the food companies, and you provide good statistical information that doing that may be good idea.

      I may have a better idea. Education, Information, so that people have the informed knowledge to make the Healthy choice in life and know what health is and how to maintain it or restore it in their body and life.

      Doctors are experts in Disease, so why would you want to go to an expert in
      disease when you have the choice, with correct information, to see an expert in Health…that is not M.D.’s. M.D.’s are heavily trained to be experts in Disease and the management of the disease process, except you still have the disease.



  8. Tax4toys April 12, 2018 7:04 pm Reply

    As any cancer survivor will tell you the importance of opiate medications. Like all the articles says:
    What we’ve seen in the County of Kauai, last year, there was about 520 grams of heroin seized in all of 2017, that’s almost a pound. At this point, this year alone, we’ve had over 580 grams, that’s about a pound and a quarter of heroin (seized), and we’re only in April. We’re expecting two to three times more by the end of the year, which is an amazing, unfortunate statistic,” Trask said.

    So go after the criminals and stop the BS and the reality of the Big Pharma behind the epidemic in order to promote billions of new experimental drugs. stopping The CARTEL might be a start????

  9. Charlie Chimknee April 12, 2018 11:57 pm Reply

    Aloha Tax for Toys, so far no one or police or gov’t has been able to stop the cartels, or smuggling , or the Big Pharm, or local criminals.

    A new paradigm in drug problems needs to come up as a new idea…

    I’ve heard of the “Shovel Technique”. It’s crazy, but it does answer all the questions and provides the solutions.

    But nobody is that brave who is in charge. It can eliminate every problem with drugs. 6-9 months evil collapses.

    But what do we do with all the unemployed who were formally making good livings off others drug problems. Courts, jails, lawyers, the gov’t employees…too many will be unemployed.



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