Growing Number of Towns Consider Lawsuit Against Pharmaceutical Companies Over Opioid Addiction

Growing Number of Towns Consider Lawsuit Against Pharmaceutical Companies Over Opioid Addiction

Meriden Record-Journal, August 17, 2017

By Michael Savino

Southington is considering joining other towns in filing a lawsuit against some pharmaceutical companies over soaring rates of opioid addiction.

“I’m very excited,” Southington Town Council Chairman Michael Riccio said Monday about possibly joining the lawsuit, which Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary is attempting to organize. “It’s about time the drug companies start paying for the mess that they have created.”

Riccio said he wasn’t sure how far talks have progressed, but he expects the matter to come up for discussion by the rest of the council in the near future. Town Manager Garry Brumback couldn’t be reached for comment.

Southington is one of 10 towns considering joining Waterbury. O’Leary notified towns in a June memo, circulated by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, that the firm Simmons, Hanly, and Conroy would be willing to represent a collection of municipalities for free.

The firm also represents municipal or county governments from New York, Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas in similar lawsuits.

Meriden City Manager Guy Scaife said he thinks states, not municipalities or counties, should take the lead on filing class action lawsuits, though.

“If there’s a legitimate concern, it’s not unique to Connecticut,” Scaife said, adding he hasn’t had discussions with other city officials about it yet.

Similarly, Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone said he hasn’t given much consideration to joining any potential legal action. Milone added he would need to get more information before approaching the town council about its desire.

Opioid issue straining local budgets back to top

The possibility of legal action comes as municipalities say the opioid epidemic is putting an increasing strain on already tight budgets.

David Lowell, chief operating officer for Hunter’s Ambulance Services in Meriden, said paramedics responded to roughly 40 calls for opioid-related overdoses in just the first three months, with six resulting in deaths.

Lowell, also on the city council, said that’s double the number of deaths from the same time period in 2016, when Connecticut saw overdose related deaths sore to 917. In 2012, the state saw just 357 overdose deaths.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is the largest cause in the spike in deaths, with 479 incidents of someone having traces in their systems. Heroin remains the most common, with 504 people found with traces, but there can be overlap in cases of the two drugs being combined.

Lowell, who participated in a podcast on the topic, tracks the locations, and said most people would be surprised to see overdose calls coming from all over the city.

“No one’s immune to it,” he said. “It’s in public spaces, it’s in homes across our community.” Public health officials have blamed opioid painkillers for the spike in addiction, saying an over reliance on pills has caused more people across the country to become addicted.

When patients are unable to get refills on their prescriptions, though, they often turn to drugs like heroin or fentanyl, which has caused prices for opioid drugs to plummet because it is so cheaply produced. It’s also far more potent than heroin, though, resulting in the spike in overdoses.

Should municipalities decide to file a class action lawsuit, it would follow the rationale behind the complaint filed by more than 40 states in the mid-1990s. That lawsuit resulted in tobacco companies repaying states for nearly $250 billion in medical costs.

Scaife said that lawsuit demonstrates that states, not municipalities, would be better positioned to take similar action again.

Attorney General George Jepsen announced in June that Connecticut was participating in a multi-state investigation into whether pharmaceutical companies engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing or sale of prescription painkillers.

Jaclyn Severance, a spokeswoman for Jepsen, said Monday that the investigation is ongoing.