Norwich to consider joining opioid lawsuit

Norwich — The City Council on Monday will consider joining a multimunicipality lawsuit against 23 pharmaceutical companies for costs associated with the opioid crisis, including emergency response costs, higher health insurance costs for employees and worker’s compensation.

With time running out to decide whether to join the action filed by nearly two dozen Connecticut cities and town, the council will consider a resolution Monday to hire the law firm Scott + Scott on a retainer to enter the suit filed in Hartford Superior Court. Scott + Scott already represents Waterbury, New Haven, Bridgeport and New Britain in the suit that names a host of big-name pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, headquartered in Stamford.

Because of that locale, the Connecticut suit was filed in state court, while cities and towns throughout the country are filing similar suits in federal courts, Norwich Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said.

Judge Thomas Moukawsher has set a May 14 date to consider any motions to dismiss the case, meaning Norwich would have to act soon to join the suit. Mayor Peter Nystrom, who co-sponsored the resolution with Council President Pro Tempore William Nash, said if the council does not vote on the resolution Monday, “we might miss out.”

In January, Norwich Human Services Director Lee Ann Gomes led a presentation on the opioid crisis in Norwich. The city ranks third in the state in overdose deaths, with 14 deaths in 2015, 23 deaths in 2016 and 19 deaths in the first half of 2017. Norwich responded to the rapid increases, obtaining a $138,000 Partnership for Success grant to focus on drug abuse prevention.

But Nystrom said Norwich still faces the enormous costs listed in the multi-town lawsuit and summarized in Monday’s council resolution: “increases to the costs of first responders’ budgets, increases to the cost of health insurance provided their employees and retirees, the cost of opium related substance abuse treatments, as well as damages for the harms visited to the social fabric of the community.”

According to the proposed retainer agreement between the city and Scott + Scott, the city would not have to pay the law firm any money for the representation. The firm is prosecuting the case on a contingency fee basis and will advance all out-of-pocket expenses necessary for “vigorous and effective representation.”

Scott + Scott would be paid up to 22.5 percent of any settlement with the pharmaceutical companies or what the court orders, and would seek to recover out-of-pocket costs through the suit, as well.

Nystrom said in addition to compensation for the city’s costs to fight the opioid crisis, he hopes all the court cases will lead pharmaceutical companies to reduce the number of prescriptions and find alternatives for people in pain.

If the council approves the resolution Monday, Norwich would be the first local municipality to join the multi-town suit. New London filed a separate suit April 3 in New London Superior Court, also hiring Scott + Scott to represent the city. Mayor Michael Passero said at the time that the city decided to file on its own so its issues would not be lost among those of the many other plaintiff municipalities.

c.bessette@theday.com

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