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Connecticut Communities Look To Sue Drug Makers Over Opioid Crisis

Hartford Courant - 8/31/2017

Aug. 31--The city and as many as 24 other Connecticut communities will announce Thursday that they are suing major pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis.

Similar to lawsuits filed by dozens of states, counties and cities elsewhere in the country, Waterbury intends to claim drug manufacturers helped create the opioid addiction epidemic through fraudulent marketing.

Representatives from Bridgeport, Bristol and a series of towns, small cities and mid-sized suburbs will attend a morning meeting at city hall to talk about possibly pursuing a joint lawsuit.

"Our police are responding to overdose calls, our hospitals have to deal with them -- it's becoming an epidemic across the country. It's time we got ahead of it," said Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne, who said his city will join Waterbury as a plaintiff.

"The opioid crisis is taking resources that could be used elsewhere. But even more than that, it's destroying the fabric of families," Cockayne said.

Officials in Waterbury, Connecticut's fifth-largest city, are not disclosing details about the lawsuit yet. On Thursday -- International Overdose Awareness Day -- they expect to publicly name the defendants and reveal specifics about the accusations against them.

Prospective plaintiffs range from affluent shoreline suburbs to blue-collar Naugatuck Valley towns.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary has invited attorneys Paul J. Hanly Jr., a partner in Simmons Hanly Conroy; and Jim Hartley, a partner in Drubner, Hartley, & Hellman, to talk beforehand with mayors and first selectmen about the potential expenses and timetable of the lawsuit.

Communities that are sending representatives include Torrington, Milford, Bristol, Manchester, Bridgeport, Darien, Portland, Fairfield, Ridgefield, Seymour, New Milford, Tolland, Roxbury, Manchester, Naugatuck, Oxford, Woodbury, Plainville, Suffield, Cheshire, Wallingford, Coventry, Durham and New Fairfield.

Some of those are certain to join the suit while others plan to get more information Thursday.

"We're signing on for sure. Our council already voted unanimously," said David Gronbach, mayor of New Milford.

"We have people dying in New Milford, and we're at the breaking point. I really want to thank Mayor O'Leary for taking the lead. We need pressure through the court so we can get some resources to put education and treatment in place," Gronbach said.

"Look at the municipalities on the list. We don't agree on other issues, but we come to together on this. It's an epidemic that's hitting all of us in one way or another," Gronbach said. "When people are dying and suffering in our communities, it doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal."

Cheshire Mayor Michael Milone said he is attending the meeting Thursday to learn more so he can make a recommendation to the town council on Sept. 12.

"We want to do anything we can to address this. I've had four or five deaths in the last six months that were opioid-related. They're not all young -- they're in their late 20s to mid-40s, an age group that I didn't even realize it was reaching," Milone said.

In Oxford, where a spate of opioid-related deaths last year left the small town reeling, selectman George Temple said, "this is something we've been wanting -- needing -- to do for a long time." His town lost seven men, all in their twenties or early thirties, to opioid overdoses last year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that opioids were linked to more than 33,000 deaths in 2015. In the past year, lawsuits against major opioid producers have been filed by South Carolina, Ohio, Missouri, numerous county governments and a series of municipalities including Chicago.

Missouri is suing Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson and units of Endo International Plc, claiming they knew their products were addictive and potentially dangerous. The suit accuses them of fraud to keep that information from doctors and patients.

Defendants in those cases have denied misconduct and said their products were approved by the FDA.

Courant Staff Writer Matt Ormseth contributed to this report.

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(c)2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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