Steve Heap via shutterstock
Oxycodone pills (Steve Heap via shutterstock)

NEW HAVEN, CT — Three pharmaceutical opioid distributors asked the Superior Court earlier this month to dismiss the City of New Haven’s lawsuit accusing the companies of indirectly shipping “suspicious” quantities of opioids to the city.

The City of New Haven sued three drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen Corporation, McKesson Corporation and Cardinal Health, Inc. — along with a handful of opioid manufacturers back in October.

The case has been transferred to the complex litigation docket in Hartford Superior Court. A judge gave the defendants until March to respond to the city’s allegations.

New Haven has one of the highest death rates from opioids in the state. In 2016, 70 people in the Elm City died from overdoses, not all of which involved prescription drugs.

The allegations in the New Haven lawsuit are similar to those filed by other Connecticut municipalities, which argue that the pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors named as defendants in the lawsuit are largely responsible for the burgeoning number of deaths and escalating costs from the national opioid crisis.

In its motion to dismiss New Haven’s lawsuit filed Jan. 4, an attorney for the three distributors said the city’s “alleged injuries are too indirect, remote, and derivative as they relate to the distributors’ alleged conduct.”

In a 22-page memo supporting the motion, attorneys for the distributors said New Haven’s lawsuit “is notable for what it does not allege.”

“It does not allege that the distributors sold prescription opioids to pharmacies not registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration or to anyone else outside the closed system,” the memo stated. “And it does not allege that the distributors failed to maintain physical security of the drugs. Nor does it allege that the distributors failed, as required, to report to DEA all sales of opioid medications made to retail pharmacies (thus enabling DEA to determine the total amount of such medications supplied to pharmacies in the City).”

The memo concludes that the “City lacks standing to bring this action because its injuries are too remote.”

The city declined to respond to the latest motion.

“It is the policy and practice of the City of New Haven to withhold comment on details regarding pending litigation,” city spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Tuesday.

New Haven’s complaint also names as defendants Stamford-based Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Cephalon Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Insys Therapeutics.

When New Haven filed its lawsuit, Mayor Toni Harp said joining the lawsuit was about highlighting pushy tactics from manufacturers and holding them accountable for their involvement in the crisis affecting the state and country.

The lawsuit accuses opioid makers of working to deceive doctors and patients — including groups such as senior citizens and veterans — about the addictive risks of opioids and their appropriateness for chronic pain management.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for New Haven’s “exorbitant” costs for social services and increased expenditures for additional first-responder services to respond to growing opioid abuse.

In its motion to dismiss, lawyers for the three distributors state: “The municipal cost recovery doctrine, which provides that public expenditures made in the performance of government functions are not recoverable, independently bars the city’s action because the city’s alleged damages are all based on increased costs of municipal services.”

Statewide, 917 people died in 2016 of fatal drug overdoses. Officials say the number of deaths will top 1,000 when all the 2017 numbers are in.

New Haven’s lawsuit follows similar litigation filed in August against the drugmakers by the city of Waterbury. Similar lawsuits were filed by 17 other communities including Bridgeport, Naugatuck, Southbury, Woodbury, Fairfield, Milford, West Haven, Oxford, North Haven, Torrington, Bristol, East Hartford, Thomaston, Southington, Newtown, Shelton, and Tolland.

In addition, states like Alaska, New Jersey Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Washington have also sued pharmaceutical companies and distributors.