Municipalities file suit against pharmaceutical companies over opioids

Drubner Hartley & Hellman and Simmons Hanly Conroy together filed a lawsuit recently on behalf of 18 municipalities in Connecticut against pharmaceutical companies over the “aggressive and fraudulent” marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a “drug epidemic” in the state and throughout the nation, said a press release from the lawfirms.

The action was filed in Connecticut Superior Court in the Judicial District of Waterbury, at Waterbury.

The municipalities filing suit are Bridgeport, Naugatuck, Southbury, Woodbury, Fairfield, Beacon Falls, Milford, Oxford, West Haven, North Haven, Thomaston, Torrington, Bristol, East Hartford, Southington, Newtown, Shelton, Tolland. The news release said municipalities seek relief that includes compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars they spend each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.

The defendants in the lawsuit are: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; 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.

This filing follows similar action filed by Drubner Hartley & Hellman and Simmons Hanly Conroy last year on behalf of the City of Waterbury, Connecticut against pharmaceutical manufacturers to address the opioid crisis.

On Jan. 4, Hanly was appointed by a federal judge to be co-lead counsel overseeing all the federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioid painkillers. Hanly, with extensive experience in litigation against opioid manufacturers going back more than a decade, will work with his co-lead counsels to manage the federal lawsuits brought by nearly 100 other law firms representing plaintiffs in more than 200 docketed opioid cases.

According to the complaint, the release said, increased misuse of opioids as a result of the defendants’ conduct has led to significant increases in the number of opioid-related emergency room visits, hospital stays, and deaths in Connecticut. Between 2012 and 2017, Connecticut rose from ranking 50th in drug overdose deaths to 12th place.

In 2016 alone, the release said, there were 917 accidental drug overdose deaths in Connecticut, a majority of which were opioid-related. The represents an increase of more than 250 percent over the number of drug overdoses that took place in Connecticut in 2012. Furthermore, in the last several years, law enforcement and first responders in the municipalities filing suit have administered Naloxone, a medication used to block the effect of opioids, especially in overdose, hundreds of times.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was allegedly perpetrated through a civil conspiracy involving a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive (unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications) promotion and marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006, and is ongoing. Specifically, the complaint details how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other “educational” materials, conducting sales visits to doctors, and supporting a network of professional societies and advocacy groups – all of which were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.

The news release said the Connecticut lawsuit follows similar, ongoing action filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of counties and parishes across the country. In addition to Connecticut, Simmons has also filed similar lawsuits in New York, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.