Steve Heap via shutterstock

HARTFORD, CT — Lawyers for pharmaceutical opioid distributors are asking the court to throw out lawsuits filed by Connecticut cities accusing the companies of indirectly shipping “suspicious” quantities of opioids.

Attorneys for big pharma argue that the lawsuits don’t have merit for several reasons, including that pharmaceutical companies can’t be held responsible for the black market — and that the Federal Drug Administration has supervisory responsibility over legal drug distribution.

The 326-page motion was filed last week and applies to the lawsuits filed separately by New Haven, New Britain, Bridgeport, and Waterbury. Concurrent with its motion to strike, the defendants are also filing a motion to dismiss.

The defendants in the New Haven action are Purdue Pharma L.P., d/b/a Purdue Pharma (Delaware) Limited Partnership; Purdue Pharma Inc.; the Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; and Insys Therapeutics, Inc.

The motion states that it is filing only in relation to the court’s March 29 order concerning New Haven’s lawsuit, but understands that the court intends to consider the motion as it relates to three other similar cases — those filed by Waterbury, New Britain, and Bridgeport.

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.

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 in response to growing opioid abuse.

The motion to strike the New Haven lawsuit states: “To be sure, prescription opioid and illicit drug use is an urgent public health crisis. The City (New Haven) acknowledges that this crisis involves the use and abuse of highly regulated prescription opioid pain medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), as well as illegal drugs like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. The latter are illicit substances, serve no public health purpose, and are rightly illegal to possess and use.”

But the motion continues that properly prescribed opioid pain medicines “serve a critical public health objective by helping to provide relief to patients suffering from pain.”

“FDA, National Institutes of Health (“NIH”), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), and other leading medical organizations recognize that chronic pain is a serious and growing public health problem. FDA has also explained that “[w]hen prescribed and used properly … opioids can effectively manage pain and alleviate suffering — clearly a public health priority,” the motion states.

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.

Statewide, more than 1,000 people died of fatal drug overdoses in 2017.

New Haven’s lawsuit follows similar litigation filed last 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, Alaska, New Jersey Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Washington have also sued pharmaceutical companies and distributors.

Although New Haven has taken a consistent position of not commenting on pending litigation, when New Haven filed its lawsuit, Mayor Toni Harp said joining the litigation was about highlighting pushy tactics from manufacturers and holding them accountable for their involvement in the crisis affecting the state and country.

The defendants’ motions state, however, “the core theory underlying each of its claims is untenable in the face of the Complaint’s own concessions, the extensive warnings in the medications’ FDA-approved labels, and the City’s failure to connect any of the Manufacturer Defendants to the statements allegedly made by various third parties.”

The motion adds: “The City fails to link any actionable conduct with any decision by a doctor to prescribe an opioid medication or any decision by the City to reimburse the cost of that prescription.

“As to injury, the City fails to plead any improper or harmful prescriptions that it reimbursed. In addition, its alleged injuries are not cognizable because they are indirect, derivative, and remote, and are barred by the municipal cost recovery rule and the economic loss doctrine,” the motion states.