WALLINGFORD — The law department received approval from the Town Council on Tuesday to interview and hire an outside law firm that will help the town determine whether to bring legal action against opioid manufacturers.
The council voted 8-1 to approve a bid waiver that lets the law department interview outside firms with expertise in opioid lawsuits and select a firm. The selected firm will investigate the impact the opioid crisis has had on Wallingford and determine the strength of the town's case. The town would then decide whether to move forward with a lawsuit.
An agreement with the selected firm would be “based upon a contingency fee with no upfront costs paid by the town,” Corporation Counsel Janis Small said in a memo to the mayor and Town Council this month.
If the town moves forward with legal action, it would join other Connecticut municipalities, including Waterbury, that have already filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and doctors.
“We really feel the town of Wallingford should be part of an effort to correct what is a terrible and tragic situation," Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said last week.
The claims of lawsuits filed by other municipalities focus on the “false and misleading marketing of opioids as an effective and non-addictive treatment for chronic pain,” Small said.
The opioid epidemic’s impact on municipalities, Small said, “includes increased insurance/healthcare and workers' compensation costs, increase in emergency room responses and an impact on police departments and the criminal justice system.”
The bid waiver was originally included on the council’s consent agenda for the meeting Tuesday, but was removed at the request of Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein.
Fishbein. the only councilor to vote against the bid waiver, questioned why the town is considering legal action when there’s been “no success shown” in past cases.
Dickinson disagreed with Fishbein and referenced a federal case in 2007 in which three former executives of Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors and patients about the risk of addiction to OxyContin, a narcotic painkiller. The three executives agreed to pay a total of $34.5 million in fines.
“I don’t know how you can say there’s no success shown, Craig,” Dickinson said to Fishbein.
Fishbein questioned why the town doesn’t take the same position against companies that distribute alcohol, given that the drug also brings consequences to the town.
Resident Larry Morgenstein said he was pleased the bid waiver was taken off the consent agenda so it could be discussed at the meeting. Morgenstein said the potential lawsuit is an important issue and applauded Dickinson for “championing” the cause.
Council chairman Vincent Cervoni said he initially put the item on consent agenda because the town would only pay a contingency fee if it was successful in a lawsuit.
“I didn’t see this as a big budget shaker,” Cervoni said. He added he had no problem taking the item off consent agenda.
Ken Welch, founder of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, spoke in support of the town’s potential legal action at the meeting. Since 2012, the Coalition has worked to combat drug and opioid addiction in the community.
“This is a big deal, a really big deal, for hundreds of Wallingford citizens, and it’s important that we endorse and support the lawsuit to recover the expenses in the name of those that are no longer with us and those that are still suffering,” Welch said at the meeting.
In other business, the council was scheduled to vote on whether to approve $6.2 million for a new town-wide radio system and $7.8 million for projects to replace windows at four different schools and make improvements at the middle school and high school auditoriums. The council had not acted on the items as of 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Wire reports were included in this story.