First Test of Opioid-Crisis Suits Rejected in Connecticut

An arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

HARTFORD, Ct. (CN) – Rejecting civil claims against 25 drug companies including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, a judge ruled Wednesday that the lawsuit by dozens of Connecticut towns and cities evinced nothing more than a money grab.

“The cities want the money for the indirect harm they say the drug companies caused them,” wrote Judge Thomas Moukawsher with the Hartford Superior Court. “They say they have been forced to pay for addicts’ social and medical needs and have suffered other direct expenses the addicts themselves caused, including extra emergency-responder expenses, consequences from drug related crimes, etc.

“But because they are suing in an ordinary civil lawsuit their lawsuits can’t survive without proof that the people they are suing directly caused them financial losses they seek to recoup,” Moukawsher said.

Moukawsher emphasized that the suit here does not allege misleading advertising or an oversupply of drugs. Rather the cities want the drugmakers to pay each city for the damage they allegedly caused.

This, however, would require proof both of damage amounts amounts and the degree of cause.

Thousands of state and local governments have brought similar claims against drug companies in recent years, but Judge Moukawsher is believed to be the first to rule on their merits.

New Haven, New Britain, Waterbury and Bridgeport were among the plaintiffs.

Lawyers for them at the firm Scott + Scott have not returned a request seeking comment.

Stamford-basedv Purdue Pharma meanwhile applauded Moukawsher’s ruling.

“We commend the judge for applying the law and concluding that opioid manufacturers cannot be legally responsible to cities for the indirect harms they claim they experienced as a result of the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement. “We share these communities’ concerns about the opioid crisis, and we remain committed to working collaboratively, bringing meaningful solutions forward to help address this public health challenge.”

The lawsuits filed by state and local governments came after Purdue Pharma along with three of its executives, pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges for intentionally misrepresenting the addictiveness of OxyContin. 

Though the plea included an obligation to pay more than $600 million, OxyContin helped Purdue rake in far more than that in profits over the years. In just the first four years of introducing the painkiller, according to a 10-year-old paper in the American Journal of Public Health, Purdue saw its sales grow from $48 million in 1996 to $1.1 billion in 2000.

Purdue also reached a $19.5 million settlement in 2007 with 26 states and the District of Columbia to resolve claims that it encouraged doctors to overprescribe OxyContin. The company did not admit wrongdoing in that settlement.

Cities and towns were hoping that the courts would treat these lawsuits like they did with the master tobacco settlement from the 1990s.

Cigarette makers have paid out more than $100 billion over the past 20 years to compensate Americans for high rates of illness and public health costs tied to smoking. Some of the money was supposed to go to programs to help smokers quit.

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