Area towns consider joining lawsuit against opioid producers

Area towns consider joining lawsuit against opioid producers

Record-Journal


Area towns and cities, including Meriden, Southington, Cheshire and Plainville, could join a lawsuit filed by Waterbury against drug companies over the opioid epidemic.

New York and Waterbury law firms are representing the city of Waterbury against a host of pharmaceutical manufacturers as well as doctors that have promoted opioid painkillers. The lawsuit served this week argues that the firms and doctors misrepresented the addictive nature of the drugs.

In 2007 Purdue, the manufacturer of OxyContin, settled criminal and civil charges against it for “misbranding” the opioid, according to the lawsuit. The company settled for $635 million.

Waterbury officials are hoping to receive reimbursement from Purdue and other companies for expenses incurred in treating opioid addiction, overdoses and other effects. The city is the only plaintiff at the moment but representatives from municipalities in the area met this week about the lawsuit.

Leaders in Meriden, Southington and Cheshire are considering joining the legal action.

Michael Quinn, Meriden’s corporation counsel, said the city has to weigh the costs and benefits of participating. The City Council would also likely need to weigh in on whether to join the lawsuit.

Jim Hartley, an attorney with Drubner, Hartley & Hellman of Waterbury, said there’s no cost to towns and cities. If successful, his firm and New York-based Simmons Hanly Conroy would be paid. If not, the firms would absorb the cost of litigation.

“We’re going to bear all the costs. At the end of the day if we don’t prevail, we still bear the costs,” Hartley said.

Paul Hanly, an attorney with Simmons Hanly Conroy, said the suit’s basis was the same as in the 2007 settlement.

“The companies led by Purdue Pharma, which is a Connecticut company, created a campaign of disinformation about the addiction properties of opioids,” Hanly said.

Purdue is based in Stamford. A representative from the company couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In addition to money for addiction-related services, Hanly is hoping for pharmaceutical companies to contribute funds toward addiction prevention efforts. Such a settlement would be similar to those with tobacco companies.

“We would be looking for the same thing,” he said. “A component of any resolution would have to be not only money for the past but a continuing commitment to these communities.”

Health officials have blamed increased opioid addiction for a rise in heroin use among those no longer able to buy painkillers.

Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone said police, fire and health officials are scheduled to give a presentation on opioid addiction at the Sept. 12 Town Council meeting. He’s not sure if Cheshire should join the lawsuit but he is going to compile addiction-related expenses before the meeting so the council can make a decision.

Unlike Waterbury, which runs a methadone clinic, Milone wasn’t sure how many identifiable expenses Cheshire could document.

“That’s something that’s going to be very, very difficult to determine and identify,” he said. “It’s not to say that hidden somewhere there isn’t some expense.”

Cheshire has had overdoses, some fatal, and Milone said he’s supportive of any efforts to combat addiction.

Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback said the town is also considering whether to join the lawsuit. Town Attorney Mark Sciota attended the meeting in Waterbury this week.

“At this particular point, it appears as though we’re going to act as part of a municipal coalition,” Brumback said.

Hanly said the suit wouldn’t be a class action, but that towns and cities could join as additional plaintiffs.

The first hearing on the case won’t be held for months, according to Hartley. Litigation for the case settled in 2007 took four years.

Plainville Town Manager Robert E. Lee said he’ll bring the question of whether to join the lawsuit before the Town Council later this month and recommend that the town do so.

“Plainville is not immune to the opioid crisis in Connecticut,” he said. “We have had several deaths in our community and we have seen a marked increase in the town’s self-insurance prescriptions related to opioids.”

jbuchanan@recordjournal.com 203-317-2230 Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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