A major court ruling in Oklahoma against an opioid manufacturer has Guilford County officials optimistic that the county could see a good deal of money by winning a similar suit filed last year.

Last week, a judge in Cleveland County, Oklahoma ruled that Johnson & Johnson must pay $572 million in damages in a lawsuit brought by the state’s attorney general for that company’s role in fueling the opioid crisis in Oklahoma. Of that amount, $200 million is slated to go to the Oklahoma State University Center for Wellness and Recovery to help fight addiction in the state.

That ruling was very bad news for the many opioid makers and distributers around the world who are up to their ears in similar lawsuits, and, right after that decision, there was news that another major drug company, Purdue Pharma, may offer $10 billion to $12 billion to settle a large number of lawsuits that have been filed against it.

The Oklahoma judge’s ruling and an increasing willingness to settle on the part of the drug makers are raising hopes that Guilford County will see some money as well. In 2018, Guilford County filed suit against national and international opioid makers and distributers, just as many local governments across the country have now done. Guilford County claimed in that suit that the industry players showed reckless disregard for the safety and well being of Guilford County citizens.

A ruling or settlement in that lawsuit could mean millions for Guilford County that would be used to help cover the costs the county has absorbed in past years as a result of the opioid epidemic – one that the county’s lawsuit claims is largely the fault of the opioid manufacturers and distributors. The money Guilford County receives in a court victory or legal settlement would, county officials said last year, be put toward programs meant to address opioid addiction in the community.

City of Greensboro officials are also no doubt paying close attention to the latest developments because, like Guilford County, Greensboro has filed a lawsuit against the drug makers and distributors and a court victory or lucrative settlement could mean a good deal of money for the city as well as for the county.

Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said that right now it’s early in the legal process and he also declined to offer a guestimate as to how much Guilford County might see in a court win or settlement.

“At this stage, we cannot say any more than we are talking,” Payne said.

He added that those discussions are “just starting” and said that Guilford County is working with other local governments that are plaintiffs in the case along side of Guilford County.

Many local governments across North Carolina and the country have filed lawsuits similar to the one Guilford County filed last year. Forsyth, Gaston, New Hanover and Orange counties are just some of the counties in the state that filed lawsuits against the opioid producers and distributors in 2017 and 2018. The same is true in other parts of the country where opioid addiction has been a problem. For instance, in January 2018 New York City filed a similar lawsuit.

The situation is reminiscent to some of the widespread state lawsuits decades ago against tobacco companies that led to big payouts for states.

Guilford County officials are arguing that the large pharmaceutical companies are legally responsible for the wrongful distribution of prescription opiates that have hurt the county’s population as well as its finances.

It’s possible Guilford County could win triple damages if the court finds the companies violated the law in some especially egregious ways.