A state judge in Connecticut has dismissed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and two dozen other opioid manufacturers.
Judge Thomas Moukawsher in Hartford Superior Court ruled Tuesday that the lawsuits were not allowed because they were not government enforcement actions, such as those filed under consumer protection and public health laws. Instead, the judge said the lawsuits were filed as “ordinary civil cases” seeking money damages for the “indirect harm” from the opioid crisis.
“Their lawsuits can’t survive without proof that the people they are suing directly caused them the financial losses they seek to recoup,” Moukawsher wrote. “This puts the cities in the same position in claiming money as the brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, and co-workers of addicts who say they have also indirectly suffered losses by the opioid crisis. That is to say — under long-established law — they have no claims at all.”
However, not all legal scholars agree with the judge’s ruling.
“I don’t think he reached the correct decision,” said New York lawyer Judith Scolnick, who is representing New Haven and New Britain. “It’s disappointing. We’re considering every option.”
The ruling is believed to be the first to dismiss government lawsuits in recent rounds of litigation against opioid manufacturers. Last month, a federal judge in Ohio overseeing more than 1,400 lawsuits against drugmakers by local governments and other groups rejected requests by the companies to dismiss the claims.
Like other drugmakers, Purdue Pharma has denied allegations in lawsuits that it used deceptive marketing to boost sales of its opioid painkiller, deceiving patients and doctors about the risks of opioids. Manufacturers are being blamed for helping fuel addiction and opioid overdose deaths.
About 47,600 Americans died from drug overdoses involving opioids in 2017, a toll that has been rising for two decades, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Local, state and federal governments say they have been forced to pay for opioid addicts’ social and medical needs, including emergency response services, doses of overdose-reversal drugs and medical care for government employees.
In a related story, a former pharmaceutical chief executive pleaded guilty to playing a part in a sophisticated scheme to give kickbacks to doctors who prescribed his company’s fentanyl-based opioid drugs — a move one top lawyer said is one step toward the goal of cutting down the corrupt greed that’s “alive and well in the pharma business.”
Michael Babich, the former CEO at Insys Therapeutics, pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston on Wednesday for his role in a nationwide scheme to bribe physicians to prescribe the company’s oral-spray painkillers meant for cancer patients facing extreme pain.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said, “Boston has reached a breaking point in the fight against the opioid epidemic. We have a public health crisis on our hands that has steadily gotten worse in recent years and even though we have been increasing access to critical treatments and supports, we can’t fight this alone. It’s time to hold accountable the companies that created and fostered this crisis and pursue remedies to stop its harmful marketing tactics.”
Cities and towns across the country have been grappling with an opioid crisis for years now and it has reached epidemic proportions. Whether the courts will allow cities and towns as well as individuals to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible is an open question at this point.