WATERBURY - Bristol has joined Waterbury in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has resulted in a drug epidemic, impacted families and resulted in financial burdens for cities and town.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary invited mayors, town managers, first selectmen and representatives from 20 cities and towns across the state to a press conference at Waterbury City Hall Thursday afternoon to discuss the lawsuit that was initiated Thursday morning.
The lawsuit alleges that the pharmaceutical companies falsely informed physicians, patients and healthcare providers that opioid treatment for chronic pain was safe and perpetuated the misinformation in marketing campaigns since the late 1990s.
Defendants include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceuticals. Physicians not located in Connecticut are also defendants and include Dr. Perry Fine, Dr. Scott Fishman and Dr. Lynn Webster.
“The reason is because we are all dealing with this opioid crisis, epidemic,” O’Leary said. “It doesn’t matter what we call it, it’s absolutely having devastating impacts on every city and town here in Connecticut and across the country.
“We are all here together to try and do the right thing and try and bring in a successful litigation. This is going to be a joint effort, locally, statewide and I’m sure the federal government will be getting involved.”
The lawsuit is to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioids, O’Leary explained, that increases crime, healthcare costs, workers’ compensation and impact on the communities.
Waterbury, New Milford, Naugatuck, Oxford, Bristol, Wolcott, Roxbury and Bridgeport have already signed onto the lawsuit.
Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne commented, “We said right away that we are going to join. We have to look beyond the monetary route. This issue impacts families from all walks of life. We all have friends, neighbors and relatives that at some point or another were touched by this, and that to me is what it has to do with, not so much monetary.
“How this starts is sometimes with a simple surgery and patients get prescribed the opioids and get hooked. These are hard drugs doctors are prescribing and many people are looking at them as safe drugs. A lot of these prescriptions are being over prescribed and the patients are being told the wrong information.”
O’Leary noted that “staggering data” and “an enormous amount of research” led to hiring Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms that handled past litigation with pharmaceutical companies.
Paul Hanly, shareholder and lawyer at the firm, said, “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 fraudulent actions, and the injuries and costs that have resulted from the opioid epidemic.
“The defendants have manufactured, promoted and marketed opioids by omitting critical information that has long been known about the drugs’ addictive qualities and other risks associated with their prolonged use.”
The dollar amount communities have suffered is unsure, “but we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” Hanley said. He added that the physician defendants “were paid by the government to spread false information” and are being sued “for their participation,” not for their “prescribing habits.”
In 2016, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that 917 people in Connecticut died of a drug overdose. The vast majority were opioid related and represent a 257 percent increase in overdose related-deaths in the state since 2012. The examiner also predicted 1,000 deaths from overdose by the end of 2017.
Lorenzo Burgio can be reached at email@example.com or at 860-973-5088.