New London's lawsuit against Big Pharma moves forward

New London — The city’s lawsuit against several major pharmaceutical companies, in the works since last fall, is moving forward.

Filed in New London Superior Court on Tuesday, the action alleges the opioid crisis is “largely man-made” because opioid manufacturers and distributors were dishonest in marketing and selling the drugs.

“Since the mid-1990s,” the complaint reads, “the Manufacturer Defendants, led by Purdue Pharma, have engaged in a scheme to boost sales for their prescription opioid products by upending medical orthodoxy and popular belief regarding the safety and efficacy of long-term opiate use."

“Defendants accomplished this reversal by falsely promoting their highly dangerous products for the use of chronic pain and ... denying or trivializing the risk of addiction.”

If the defendants had been more truthful, the complaint presumes, "the amount of opioids flooding the City of New London and its surrounding areas would not have been so disproportionate to the actual need."

In New London, there were 16 opioid-related overdose deaths from Jan. 1, 2016, through March 1, 2018. During the same time period, the city saw 187 nonfatal opioid overdoses and hundreds of hospital visits for opioid abuse or dependence.

The complaint lists 25 services the city now has to pay for that it didn’t before — or at least not to this extent. First responders have to obtain and be trained on using naloxone. The courthouse oversees a special diversion program for those with drug-related offenses. Recovery coaches and navigators support those who overdose or are at risk of overdosing. City agencies put on advertising campaigns and host drug take-back events.

Because those who struggle with addiction frequently relapse and can’t technically be cured, the complaint states, “the damages to the City of New London have been severe and will continue until the health crisis is abated, which will likely take years, if not decades.”

Defendants named in the action include 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., Endo Health Solutions Inc., Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan plc, Actavis Inc., Watson Laboratories Inc., Actavis LLC, Actavis Pharma Inc., Insys Therapeutics Inc., McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corp. and John Kapoor.

In the complaint, the city accuses the defendants of creating a public nuisance, violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, engaging in common law fraud, negligently misrepresenting products and unjustly enriching themselves.

For all of the above, the city is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The lawsuit is similar to several others that have been filed in the state and across the country, including one, filed in state Superior Court in the Judicial District of Waterbury, that involves 18 other Connecticut towns. Last month, Mayor Michael Passero said city officials opted to launch their own suit rather than joining the multitown one because they were concerned New London’s interests would get lost among the interests of the other towns.

Scott + Scott Attorneys at Law, an international firm with an office in Colchester, is representing New London in the case. The agency is doing so on contingency, meaning the city will have to pay a fee only if the lawsuit is successful or is settled out of court.

“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,” New London's city attorney, Jeffrey Londregan, said last month. “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 said at the time. He said he imagined the dozens of similar lawsuits nationwide, which generally name the same defendants, at some point could end up consolidated or otherwise handled en masse.

"As our city struggles with the human tragedy of the opioid pandemic, it is also appropriate that we demand that those who unleashed this scourge are held responsible," Passero said Wednesday.

l.boyle@theday.com 

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