CHARLESTOWN — Count Charlestown among the municipalities joining a planned lawsuit against five of the largest manufacturers of highly addictive prescription opioids.
The Town Council voted Feb. 12 to join efforts started by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and 13 other communities to file a public-nuisance lawsuit against the pharmaceutical drug manufacturers and wholesale drug distributors tied to the manufacture and sale of opioids.
“This is being described as an epidemic across the country, and in parts of Rhode Island,” Council President Virginia Lee said.
Richmond was one of the initial municipalities to sign on to the planned litigation last month.
The drug companies “allegedly knew of the dangerous side effects, the addictive characteristics of the products they were selling and failed to properly disclose that,” Charlestown Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said.
If the municipalities win in court, they could be entitled to a monetary payout.
“For an analogy, this is kind of like the Google lawsuit, where those municipalities and states that participated were able to benefit greatly,” Ruggiero said.
Rhode Island received $230 million in 2012 as part of the Google suit. In that case, Google forfeited the money in 2011 to settle a U.S. government investigation into its distribution of online ads from Canadian pharmacies illegally selling prescription drugs to American consumers.
“There’s literally millions and millions of dollars involved in this litigation,” Ruggiero said.
And hundreds of plaintiffs nationally.
“There’s probably some recovery available, and really no cost to the town,” Ruggiero said.
Manufacturers listed as defendants include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Activis and Watson Pharmaceuticals.
Wholesale drug distributors named in the suit are McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug.
The suit alleges tht the companies failed in their moral and legal obligations to protect the public from drug abuse under established federal laws.
“What’s going on with opiates is a huge problem,” council Vice President Julie Carroccia said. The companies, she said, distributed the drugs while aware of their highly addictive properties.
“They just pumped it out there,” she said. “The problems that they made are astronomical.”
Because of concerns over addiction, Congress introduced a system in 1970 to control the volume of opioid pills being distributed nationally. Under the system, only a select few wholesalers were given the right to deliver opioids. In exchange, those companies agreed to halt suspicious orders and control against the diversion of drugs for illegitimate uses.
The lawsuit argues that in recent years, however, there has been no evidence that the companies are providing proper oversight as outlined in the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The municipalities have hired several law firms to represent them.
They include Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins; Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor; Baron & Budd; Greene Ketchum Bailey Farrell & Tweel; Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler; and McHugh Fuller Law Group.