WATERBURY, CT — Waterbury and possibly dozens of other Connecticut cities and towns are taking 11 pharmaceutical companies and three doctors to court for using deceptive practices in promoting opioids as a treatment for chronic pain.
“Communities throughout Connecticut have been suffering the devastating effects of this opioid epidemic for years and we in Waterbury believe it is time to take a stand,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said last week before the lawsuit was filed.
During a press conference last week, O’Leary acknowledged the destruction caused throughout the state by the opioid epidemic. Leaders from more than 20 communities, who are considering joining the lawsuit, joined O’Leary for the press conference.
“Bristol decided that we are going to join it,” Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne said last Friday.
Bridgeport is another community which decided it would join the litigation.
“We have a moral obligation to all of our citizens and residents and that these drug companies must be held accountable,” Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim said.
Milford is also taking part.
“It’s something that we want to push back on,” Milford Mayor Benjamin Blake said last week. “It’s something that we feel strongly that we need to address from all angles. This is the legal angle.”
Blake said the city of Milford allocates 20 percent of its budget for health care costs. Last year, that percentage came to approximately $40 million.
“We know it goes beyond just the medical costs,” Blake added. “Not only the cost from a financial standpoint but, even more so, the human toll that this epidemic extracts.”
In 2016, Waterbury, according to the complaint, expended $1.4 million on opioid prescriptions for city employees, a 212 percent increase from 2013.
The complaint states that the pharmaceutical companies “knew or should have known that, with prolonged use, the effectiveness of opioids wanes, requiring increases in doses to achieve pain relief and markedly increasing the risk of significant side effects and addiction.”
In total, from 2002 through 2015, opioid overdose deaths, including heroin, have risen 280 percent in the U.S., according to findings from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As of 2017, the lawsuit states that “Connecticut rose from ranking 50th in drug overdose deaths to 12th place.”
The complaint, filed in Waterbury Superior Court, names as the lead defendant in the case Purdue Pharma L.P., the maker of OxyContin. A spokesman for the company did not respond to requests for comment.
Other defendants in the lawsuit are: the Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Dr. Perry Fine; Dr. Scott Fishman and Dr. Lynn Webster.
States, counties, and municipalities have filed similar lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies.
“Waterbury is the first Connecticut city to join the growing list of municipalities around the country that have concluded that the defendant drug companies must be held responsible for their conspiratory and fraudulent actions and the injuries and costs that have resulted from the opioid epidemic,” said Paul J. Hanly Jr., of Simmons Hanly Conroy.
Base in New York, Simmons Hanly Conroy has filed similar complaints on behalf of Duchess, Broome, Erie, Orange and Suffolk counties in New York. Two were filed in California and one in Chicago, two in West Virginia, and another in the city of Everett, Washington, and several more are in the works.
The lawsuit states that Waterbury has incurred annual costs in the millions, “including payments for prescription opium-like painkillers (‘opioids’), which are manufactured, marketed, promoted, sold, and/or distributed by the Defendants, as well as payment for the treatment of addiction to opioids.”
“A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study,” the lawsuit adds, “estimated the national economic impact of prescription opioid overdoses, abuse and dependence to be $78.5 billion dollars annually.”
By filing legal action as a municipality, rather than the state as a whole, Hanly believes cities like Waterbury will finally receive restitution.
Reflecting on the $242-billion settlement with the tobacco industry, Hanly stated that “virtually none of that money broke down to the local towns or cities in the affected states … This is a safer way to ensure that at the end of the day the city of Waterbury and any other city is actually gonna get some money if we are successful in the litigation.”
One of the claims is that each manufacturer had knowledge of “limited” short-term uses, which capped off at 90 days. These findings, according to the complaint, were confined to “managed settings (e.g. hospitals).”
The lawsuit claims the defendants mislead the public, as well as providers, about the dangers involved with long-term opioid use by creating a false sense of security “in the minds of medical professionals and members of the public that would encourage the use of opioids for longer periods of time and to treat a wider range of problems, including such common aches and pains as lower back pain, arthritis, and headaches.”
According to the complaint, the city seeks relief, including compensatory and punitive damages, for the millions of dollars it spends each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign. The Waterbury-based law firm Drubner, Hartley and Hellman is joining Simmons Hanly Conroy as co-counsel in the lawsuit.