Home Courts First lawsuit in Connecticut filed against opioid-makers

First lawsuit in Connecticut filed against opioid-makers

Waterbury followed through with its threat to become the first Connecticut city to file a lawsuit on Aug. 31 against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over what it maintains is “the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the city and throughout the nation.”

On the same day, Gov. Dannel Malloy signed legislation that he introduced earlier this year and developed in cooperation with a number of lawmakers that is designed to further the state’s efforts combating the opioid crisis.

Defendants in the Waterbury complaint, filed in the city’s superior court, include Stamford-based Purdue Pharma; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA of Wilmington, Delaware; Cephalon of Wilmington; Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, New Jersey; Janssen Pharmaceuticals of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals of Titusville, New Jersey; Endo Health Solutions Inc. of Malvern, Pennsylvania; and physicians Perry Fine and Lynn Webster, both of Salt Lake City, and Scott Fishman of Sacramento, who were allegedly instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally.

New York City-based Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, initiated the lawsuit on behalf of the city, with Waterbury-based law firm Drubner Hartley & Hellman serving as co-counsel.

The lawsuit is the latest in a growing number of similar legal actions being taken against opioid manufacturers, marketers and distributors around the country, and sources indicated that a number of Fairfield County municipalities could well file their own, similar suits.

Although Connecticut has not joined such states as Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma in filing lawsuits, state Attorney General George Jepsen announced in June that the state was joining a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from across the country to evaluate whether pharmaceutical manufacturers have engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and sale of prescription opioids.

The announcement of the Waterbury lawsuit took place at a press conference at Waterbury City Hall. Led by Waterbury Mayor Neal O’Leary, it also drew representatives from such Fairfield County towns as Ridgefield, Bridgeport and Darien.

“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,” O’Leary said. “The effects stretch throughout the state and have destroyed families, flooded emergency rooms and overwhelmed emergency services. We are pleased that so many of the leaders of our neighboring cities and towns came today to hear about our course of action and we expect many will be joining us in this litigation.”

According to Waterbury’s lawsuit, there were as many as 82 opioid prescriptions per 100 people written in Connecticut in 2014. In 2015, over 2.6 million opioid prescriptions were filled in the state.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ conduct has had a significant adverse economic impact on Connecticut municipalities. As a result, it said, Waterbury has had to spend exorbitant amounts of money to pay for the increased amount of opioid prescriptions of its employees. In 2016, the city expended $1.4 million on opioid prescriptions for city employees, a 212 percent increase from 2013.

The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that in 2016, 917 people in Connecticut died of a drug overdose, the vast majority of which were opioid-related. Between 2012 and 2015, Connecticut rose from ranking 50th in the nation in overdose deaths to 12th.

On Aug. 28, the Medical Examiner’s Office projected that drug overdose deaths in Connecticut in 2017 will exceed 1,000.

Meanwhile, the provisions of Malloy’s legislation — Public Act 17-131, “An Act Preventing Prescription Opioid Diversion and Abuse,” include:

  • Increasing data sharing among state agencies regarding opioid abuse and opioid overdose deaths;
  • Facilitating the destruction of unused prescription medication by utilizing registered nurses employed for home health care agencies;
  • Increasing security of controlled-substance prescriptions by requiring certain scheduled drugs be electronically prescribed;
  • Allowing patients to file a voluntary nonopioid form in their medical records indicating that they do not want to be prescribed or administered opioid drugs;
  • Expanding requirements about information regarding provider communications about the risk and signs of addiction and the dangers of drug interactions to cover all opioid prescriptions – current law is just for minors;
  • Reducing the maximum opioid drug prescription for minors from seven days to five days;
  • Requiring the Department of Public Health to put information online about how prescribers can obtain certification for suboxone and other medicines to treat opioid-use disorder;
  • Requiring individual and group health insurers to cover medically necessary detox treatment, as defined by American Society of Addiction Medicine criteria; and
  • Requiring alcohol and drug treatment facilities use ASAM criteria for admission guidelines

Malloy called opioid addiction and prescription drug abuse “a complex crisis that does not have one root cause, nor does it have simple solution, but we need to do everything in our power to treat and prevent it. Our work on this front will not be finished until our communities and our families are no longer struggling with the grave costs of this illness.”

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