2018-02-22 / News

Town joins lawsuit vs. big pharma

BY TIM RIEL

Drug overdoses have been responsible for 1,679 deaths since May 2011, according to the state Department of Health, which means an average of 21 Rhode Islanders are buried monthly from abuse.

The biggest culprit are opioids, a class of painkillers that includes OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin, along with fentanyl, a highly potent pain medication that alone has seen deaths associated with it increase 15-fold since 2009.

Although the majority of those deaths are in urban areas, like Providence, Woonsocket and Warwick, Jamestown has joined the fight to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible. According to a lawsuit spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee in January, at least five companies negligibly overprescribed these dangerous medications: Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Activis. The town councilors unanimously agreed Tuesday to join nearly two dozen other Rhode Island communities in the lawsuit.

“We’re not an urban city, but that doesn’t mean we’re not affected,” said Kristine Trocki, council president. “We’ve had losses. And I think it’s important that we address them.”

“There clearly was a set of offenses,” added Councilman Gene Mihaly. “We need to stand up and say so.”

According to Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, the lawsuit will not cost the town money. Instead, a consortium of law firms across the United States have collaborated to sue these pharmaceutical companies. The legal team will pay expenses for litigation, including filing fees and hiring costs for experts. If the plaintiffs win, the law firms will reimburse themselves and then take a fee from the recovery costs. They will not seek compensation from cities and towns acknowledged in the suit if the pharmaceutical companies win.

“They’re under the impression this is a zillion-dollar case,” Ruggiero said. “They’re not doing this for free, let’s face it.”

According to Police Chief Ed Mello, the opioid epidemic has taken a small financial toll on his department. Since overdoses began skyrocketing, Mello has had to train and equip his officer with Narcan, an emergency medication that blocks the effects of opioids.

“These are the things we can seek recovery for,” Ruggiero said.

According to McKee, the manufacturing companies pushed highly addictive opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients only rarely would succumb to drug addiction, while the distributors breached their legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids.

“While we bear the burden of this epidemic, multi--billion-dollar companies are turning a profit and ignoring the crisis they caused,” he said. “Until we address the source of this epidemic and force drug makers and distributors to follow the law, our cities and towns will continue to face an uphill battle.”

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