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Saturday, June 9, 2018

More Mass. towns sue pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis

More Mass. towns sue pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis

Cities and towns continue to flood federal courthouses with lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and distributors, in their individual yet collective quest to recoup money for the damage inflicted by the opioid crisis.

Last week, federal lawsuits were filed by Spencer, Sutton and Warren, adding to a growing list of plaintiffs.

Peter M. Merrigan of Sweeney Merrigan Law of Boston, one of the law firms representing Massachusetts communities through a coalition called Massachusetts Opioid Litigation Attorneys, said it is working with 100 communities in Massachusetts that have formally committed to filing suits, while many others are having internal discussions. Additional lawsuits are expected, he said Tuesday.

This is about a threefold increase from the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s report in February of more than 30 cities and towns committed to the movement of tort litigation at that time.

“I think the litigation has resonated because it’s such a widespread and pervasive issue,” said Mr. Merrigan. “This is an issue that sort of has one degree of separation. We all know somebody that has been impacted and affected. It’s been a taxpayer problem. It’s been a community problem. It’s been a public health problem. And it’s been a crisis that has been fought by the Massachusetts municipalities on the local level for a long time, and with no foreseeable end.”

Mr. Merrigan called the lawsuits a powerful tool in combating the crisis both in recouping dollars and therein resources to fight the epidemic going forward, but also to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable for being what he said was the cause of the problem.

“This is 100 percent a man-made crisis,” Mr. Merrigan said. “And so I think that the local municipalities are seeing that. They’re recognizing that and they’re doing what I think Massachusetts culture is known for, and that’s combating it and pulling ourselves by our bootstraps and being protective in our response to addressing it and dealing with it.”

He added the consortium is generally hopeful that any Massachusetts city or town that has been impacted would consider joining the effort.

Ware has voted to file a lawsuit recently. Before the two reported overdose deaths in Ware in 2017, the town had an alarming nine ODs in 2016, which Town Manager Stuart Beckley called “significant and awful.”

But Ware Deputy Fire Chief Ed Wloch said it appears that opioid overdoses have gone down. He said responders have administered 18 doses of Narcan to 15 individuals since Jan. 1, an decrease from previous years’ rates of about two ODs per week.

He said the Fire Department has conducted ongoing training on the use of Narcan, including going to a requester’s home for private training.

Education and outreach offered through the Quaboag Hills Coalition appears to be helpful toward addressing the problem, the deputy chief added.

“We have all sorts of materials we carry with us all,” he said. “That stuff costs money, and it’s just money we’re trying to throw at this to bring those numbers down. It seems to be having an effect.”

Sutton, a recent lawsuit filer, has had only one overdose death during the last five years of available data. But the matter remains a concern for the town, according to Fire Chief Matthew R. Belsito, whose department doesn’t operate a primary first responder service because of the existence of a private contractor. However, all 19 of the town’s EMTs carry Narcan.

He said the town responded to 15 overdoses during 2017.

“I wish it could be zero, but we know we’re very fortunate,” he said, in comparison to the death and overdose data of surrounding communities.

In joining the lawsuit, Chief Belsito said Sutton feels strongly, as do the other communities, that the prescribing of opiates to patients who are in pain could have been handled better.

“I totally understand that for victims of injuries, whether there’s a car accident, industrial injury or just a plain accident, injury pain management has to be accomplished to give some relief to the person. But I think it could have been controlled a little better than what it was.”


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