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Several Maine School Districts Have Joined Lawsuits Against Opioid Manufacturers

Keith Srakocic
FILE - This June 17, 2019, file photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.

More than two dozen Maine school districts have joined national lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.

According to court filings and a database from the media outlet Education Week, districts across the country are seeking compensation from companies such as Purdue Pharma.

Melissa Hewey, an attorney representing several of the districts from Maine, says the effects of the opioid crisis, such as neonatal abstinence syndrome — in babies that withdraw from drugs they were exposed to in the womb — have already been shown to significantly impact the educational needs of students.

"And as a result, school districts around the state — including in Maine, where opioid use is high —have seen an increase in special education costs," she says.

In court filings, districts involved in the case estimate that conditions such as neonatal abstinence syndrome have cost "in excess of $127 billion" nationwide.

In 2020, special education costs in Maine rose to about $460 million — a roughly 30% increase from five years before.

Hewey says a proposed settlement would use funds from the cases on initiatives to help schools address the effects of the opioid crisis.

"To the extent that there are additional funds available, that's great," Hewey says. "But again, I don't think this is anywhere close to an answer to the crisis that schools are seeing."

Districts in Portland, Bangor, Bucksport and Rumford are among those that have joined the suit.