New London prepares to file lawsuit against Big Pharma

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New London — As a multitown lawsuit against major pharmaceutical companies moves forward in Waterbury, officials in New London are preparing to launch a lawsuit of their own.

Similar cases, which seek damages from the companies, are popping up across the country. The idea is that pharmaceutical companies, by not telling the truth about the addictiveness of opioids, are to blame for the thousands of deaths the country has seen and the millions of dollars municipalities have shelled out in response.

On Friday, Mayor Michael Passero said officials began considering such litigation back in the fall, when a few law firms approached the city about it. In the months that followed, he, Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein and City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan interviewed several firms, searching for the best fit.

In the end, they opted not to sign on to the ongoing lawsuit in Waterbury, in which 18 largely southwestern Connecticut municipalities are plaintiffs. The city, Passero said, didn’t want to take the chance that “New London’s interests would get lost among the interests of the other towns.”

Londregan said New London ultimately enlisted Scott + Scott Attorneys at Law, an international firm with several offices, including one in Colchester.

“In talking with Scott and Scott, we learned there’s some legitimate legal arguments to be made as to the drug companies creating this problem,” Londregan said. “We liked their theory of how to bring the case a little better than the Waterbury contingent.”

That’s nothing against the Waterbury contingent, Londregan added. He imagines the dozens of similar lawsuits nationwide, which generally name the same defendants, at some point could end up consolidated or otherwise handled en masse.

In the Waterbury case, the defendants 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.

Speaking by phone Friday, attorney James Hartley, who’s handling the case for Drubner, Hartley & Hellman LLC, said most of the involved towns signed on after the Waterbury mayor hosted a meeting about suing the companies.

Hartley said he imagines more towns will join as the case, still in its infancy, moves forward. Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher just issued a scheduling order Thursday, outlining various deadlines and calling for a June 28 hearing.

The towns' complaint alleges that pharmaceutical companies fooled people into thinking opioid medications were safer and more effective than they are through a "coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive marketing campaign" that began in the late 1990s and continues today, even as tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are dying of opioid-related overdoses. The towns are seeking compensatory and punitive damages related to the costs of employee health care, emergency response and other addiction-related services.

In New London, officials plan to file their complaint in New London Superior Court next week.

As is standard in many of these cases, Scott + Scott is taking the case on contingency, meaning the city will have to pay a fee only if the lawsuit is successful or is settled out of court. Passero said he believes many of the same defendants will be named.

“New London has incurred a lot of expenses related to this,” Passero said of the opioid crisis.

Last year, New London saw 14 fatal overdoses and dozens more nonfatal overdoses. Of the fatal overdoses, all but two were opioid-related.

“I don’t want to whine about the cost of emergency response,” Passero continued. “The real victims in this are the people. But I feel we have an obligation to recover money for our taxpayers.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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