Cities of Concord, Dover file lawsuit against drugmakers for their role in opioid epidemic

By CAITLIN ANDREWS

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The cities of Concord and Dover filed a lawsuit Tuesday against multiple drug manufacturers and distributors who they say fueled the opioid crisis in the state through “false marketing.”

“Defendants’ unfair and/or deceptive acts or practices in violation of the New Hampshire Consumer Protect Act offend New Hampshire’s public policy, are immoral, unethical, oppressive and unscrupulous, and they caused substantial injury to Concord and Dover,” the complaint reads. “Defendants’ conduct, as described herein, meets and exceeds a level of rascality that would raise an eyebrow of someone inured to the rough and tumble world of commerce.”

In doing so, Concord and Dover join at least three other New Hampshire cities – Nashua, Manchester and Keene – that have filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, as well as other companies such as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Endo International for their role in fueling the drug epidemic.

City officials and recovery providers agreed that the lawsuit is just one piece of the puzzle needed to combat the opioid epidemic.

“I don’t think there’s any one magic bullet,” said Concord Mayor Jim Bouley. “It’s all sorts of things; we need to continue to work with public safety, Riverbend (Community Mental Health) and our partners in the community to help solve it. This may be one of those pieces.”

The lawsuit accuses pharmaceutical companies of engaging in fraudulent marketing and of failing to report suspicious sales of prescription opioids to increase sales, leading to otherwise avoidable deaths.

Like other municipalities before them, Concord and Dover are claiming specific injury due to the fact that the opioids manufactured by Purdue and other companies are sold in their cities. They claim the companies misled the public on the risks of addiction, overdose and death related to opioid use and that the companies saw these risks and did nothing to stop them.

“(The) defendants’ conduct was, at the very least, a substantial factor creating the public nuisance. Without defendants’ action, opioid use would not have become so widespread, and the opioid epidemic that now exists in Concord and Dover would have been averted or much less severe,” the complaint reads.

Bouley said the city was approached by outside legal counsel looking to have more municipalities join their suit. The decision to join, however, was made not by the city council, but by the city’s solicitor’s office, he said. Bouley said he did not know whether the cost of litigating the suit was factored into the upcoming budget process.

City Manager Tom Aspell declined to comment for this article, citing the pending suit, and referred all questions to the city solicitor’s office. Kennedy was unable to be reached for comment because he was on vacation, according to a representative of the solicitor’s office.

Aelish Baig of Robbins, Geller, Rudman & Dowd LLP, the law firm handling the suit, said Concord and Dover are just two municipalities it’s representing across the country in the federal multidistrict case against big pharmaceutical companies. The case will at first be transferred to Cleveland, where Baig said 400 other cases of a similar nature are pending. Certain legal issues will be resolved, and then the case will return to New Hampshire for the trial portion, she said.

Baig said Dover and Concord are her firm’s only New Hampshire clients at this time.

Public health officials have called the opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, leading to more than 200,000 deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2016 from overdoses directly related to prescription opioids.

More than 480 people overdosed and died in New Hampshire alone in 2017. According to data from Concord’s police and fire departments, 14 of those opioid-related deaths were in Concord, one fewer than the previous year.

Approximately 483 drug offenses and 273 drug arrests occurred in Concord last year, an 18 percent and 14 percent decrease, respectively, from 2016, according to the data.

Peter Evers, CEO of Concord’s Riverbend Community Mental Health, said there’s much more work to be done before opioids loosen their grip. But he agreed with the premise of the suit, saying 40 percent of people addicted to heroin start with overprescription on opioids.

“The more different groups decide to stand up to big pharma, the better off we’ll be,” he said. “These efforts are pretty David and Goliath.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)