Simmons Hanly Conroy Initiates Lawsuit for City Of Waterbury Against Drug Companies Over Opioid Epidemic and Addiction

Mayor Neil M. O’Leary and Legal Team Also Meet with Over 20 City and Town Leaders to Discuss Joining Waterbury’s Fight Against Manufacturers of Prescription Painkillers

WATERBURY, CT – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, today initiated a lawsuit on behalf of the City of Waterbury, Connecticut, against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the city and throughout the nation.

In the complaint, the city seeks relief, including compensatory and punitive damages, for the millions of dollars it spends each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.  Waterbury-based law firm Drubner Hartley & Hellman is joining Simmons Hanly Conroy as co-counsel in the lawsuit.

After the lawsuit was initiated this morning, Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary convened a meeting with mayors, first selectmen and representatives of more than 20 Connecticut cities and towns to discuss the case and see if they would be interested in joining Waterbury’s fight to hold the drug companies accountable.

The defendants in the lawsuit 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.

“Waterbury is the first Connecticut city to join the growing list of municipalities around the country that have concluded that the defendant drug companies must be held responsible for their conspiratory and fraudulent actions and the injuries and costs that have resulted from the opioid epidemic,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul Hanly, lead counsel in the case.  “The defendants have manufactured, promoted and marketed opioids by omitting critical information that has long been known about the drugs’ addictive qualities and other risks associated with their prolonged use.”

“Communities throughout Connecticut have been suffering the devastating effects of this opioid epidemic for years and we in Waterbury believe it is time to take a stand,” said Mayor O’Leary.  “The effects stretch throughout the state and have destroyed families, flooded emergency rooms and overwhelmed emergency services. We are pleased that so many of the leaders of our neighboring cities and towns came today to hear about our course of action and we expect many will be joining us in this litigation.”

James Hartley, partner in Drubner Hartley & Hellman, added, “The defendants have profited significantly as a result of their self-serving marketing, with opioid prescription rates increasing fourfold since 1999.  At the same time, opioid-related deaths, opioid addiction rates and the costs associated with improper use of opioids and opioid addiction have skyrocketed. Big Pharma has to be held accountable for its role in this horrendous opioid epidemic.”

Among the attendees were representatives from the cities of Bridgeport, Torrington, Milford and Bristol, and the towns of Darien, Portland, Fairfield, Ridgefield, Seymour, New Milford, Tolland, Roxbury, Manchester, Naugatuck, Oxford, Woodbury, Plainville, Suffield, Cheshire, Wallingford, Coventry, Durham and New Fairfield.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was allegedly perpetrated through a civil conspiracy involving a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive (unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications) promotion and marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006, and is ongoing. Specifically, the complaint details how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other “educational” materials, conducting sales visits to doctors, and supporting a network of professional societies and advocacy groups – all of which were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.

According to Waterbury’s complaint, there were as many as 82 opioid prescriptions per 100 people written in Connecticut in 2014.  In 2015, 2,625,042 opioid prescriptions were filled in Connecticut. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ conduct has had a significant adverse economic impact on Connecticut municipalities.  As a result, Waterbury has had to spend exorbitant amounts of money to pay for the increased amount of opioid prescriptions of its employees.  In 2016, the city expended $1.4 million on opioid prescriptions for city employees, a 212% increase from 2013.

The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that in 2016, 917 people in Connecticut died of a drug overdose, the vast majority of which were opioid-related.  This represents a 257% increase over the 357 overdose deaths in the state in 2012.  Between 2012 and 2015, Connecticut rose from ranking 50th in the nation in overdose deaths to 12th.  On August 28, 2017, the Medical Examiner’s Office projected that drug overdose deaths in Connecticut in 2017 will exceed 1,000.

The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants’ deceptive marketing, and the flood of prescription painkillers into Waterbury, has resulted in the city incurring additional costs related to termination or suspension of employees due to opioid addiction, lost productivity, and a need for drug monitoring and testing of city employees.  Waterbury also experienced a substantial increase in recent years in the number of opioids prescribed to residents; opioid-related addictions; opioid-related deaths; criminal activity due to opioid abuse; and the diversion of opioids into the criminal market.  The devastating impact on the social fabric of the Waterbury community also causes further economic harm to the city, including costs related to police and fire responses to opioid overdoses or suspected overdoses.

The Waterbury lawsuit follows similar, ongoing actions filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of eight of the nine New York counties currently suing the pharma companies including: Broome, Dutchess, Erie, Orange, Schenectady, Seneca, Suffolk and Sullivan. Nassau is the ninth county.  Oswego County in New York has hired Simmons to represent it on the same matter, and Simmons is preparing the filing to add them to the lawsuit.