New London mayor to co-chair Opioid Strategy Task Force

New London's mayor on Thursday announced he will join three other mayors to co-chair a new coalition whose mission is to advocate for proposed legislation aimed at clarifying the ability of municipalities in the state to seek damages from corporations that allegedly have caused or are fueling the opioid crisis.

New London Mayor Michael Passero will lead the bipartisan Connecticut Opioid Strategy Task Force, or COST, with New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, Wallingford Mayor William Dickinson Jr. and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.

Other municipal stakeholders, including the Connecticut Council of Municipalities, Connecticut Uniformed Professional Firefighters Association, Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, prevention and treatment providers and child welfare advocates are joining the coalition to amplify the message to their legislators, COST said in a statement.

New London is one of several municipalities to file suit against "big pharma" last year, alleging the opioid crisis is “largely man-made” because manufacturers and distributors were dishonest in marketing and selling the drugs.

All pending municipal lawsuits aimed at pharmaceutical companies were dismissed or stayed in January, making Connecticut the only state in the nation where municipalities have been denied the ability to seek damages from the corporations that they believe are responsible for the crisis in their communities.

The response was the Opioid Accountability Act, proposed legislation to “clarify that the injuries borne by municipalities fighting the opioid crisis are cognizable and, if proven, recoverable in court.”

Advocates of the legislation say it will not “overturn precedent, nor would it have any impact on the State of Connecticut’s case,” but instead provide Connecticut municipalities the ability to seek injunctive relief and damages while the case is pending.

“Every state and federal court in the U.S. that is currently adjudicating opioid cases is allowing municipalities’ claims to go forward — except in Connecticut,” Harp said in a statement. “It is fundamentally unfair that Connecticut is the only state where taxpayers are forced to bear the costs of the opioid epidemic with no ability to seek recourse from the wrongdoers. And even if the state eventually reaches a settlement in its suit, there is no guarantee that the monies will find their way back to our communities. The only way to guarantee restitution on a local level is for our municipalities to sue on our own behalf.”

“Connecticut communities are being crushed by the direct cost of the crisis through the increased investment in services and resources required to deal with the epidemic,” Passero said. “This means critical financial and personnel resources are being diverted from programs designed to meet the needs of the rest of our citizens and the entire community suffers.”

To join COST or learn how to reach your state representatives, visit www.opioidscostct.com.

g.smith@theday.com

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