Municipal opioids lawsuits moving quickly

PURDUE SUBSIDIARY: Pictured above is a sign for the Rhodes Technologies plant complex at 498 Washington St. in Coventry. Rhodes is a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma, maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin, which is the subject of multiple lawsuits nationwide taking the drug manufacturer to task for the current “opioid epidemic.”
 / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
PURDUE SUBSIDIARY: Pictured above is a sign for the Rhodes Technologies plant complex at 498 Washington St. in Coventry. Rhodes is a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma, maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin, which is the subject of multiple lawsuits nationwide taking the drug manufacturer to task for the current “opioid epidemic.”
 / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

While a lawsuit filed by Rhode Island is moving slowly, a proposed class-action lawsuit against opioid makers by cities and counties nationwide – including Providence – is expected to go to trial in Ohio in October.

In June 2018, Providence became the first municipality in Rhode Island to file suit against opioid makers. In January, 14 other local cities and towns joined the litigation. The law firm of Motley Rice is acting as the outside counsel for Providence’s lawsuit, among many others. The firm has been working to group more than 1,800 lawsuits by cities and counties nationwide into a class-action. Last month, New Bedford joined the litigation.

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The municipal lawsuits are being handled separately from the state lawsuits. Judge Dan Polster at U.S. Court for the North District of Ohio is presiding over the proposed municipal class-action. The litigation has moved quickly, and the discovery process has continued at a rapid pace, with Polster scheduling a trial to start Oct. 21, according to Joseph F. Rice, Motley Rice’s lead attorney on the case.

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“Until now, there hasn’t been a workable structure and process through which the governmental entities can have a voice and a vote in any settlement negotiations, and defendants haven’t had confidence that the litigation could be fully resolved nationwide if they settle with any one state entity or group,” Rice wrote in a recent blog. “The state attorneys general who are fighting this same battle also need to know they are supported by the local governments and the people on Main Street, USA.”

In the state’s case, R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office is weighing whether to try to depose members of the billionaire Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, in Rhode Island’s lawsuit seeking to hold Purdue and other opioid manufacturers accountable for what’s been called a nationwide “opioid epidemic.”

The state’s lawsuit was filed in November by then-Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. It is one of 48 state lawsuits filed against opioid makers by attorneys general nationwide, including Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey.

COVENTRY COMPLEX: Pictured above is the Rhodes Technologies plant complex in Coventry. The maker of generic opioids is a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma, maker of popular prescription painkiller OxyContin.
 / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
COVENTRY COMPLEX: Pictured above is the Rhodes Technologies plant complex in Coventry. The maker of generic opioids is a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma, maker of popular prescription painkiller OxyContin.
 / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

Representatives for Neronha’s office and lawyers for some of the defendants appeared recently for a court hearing in Providence, but a resolution appears far off, according to Neronha’s office.

Purdue Pharma spokesman Robert Josephson said the Stamford, Conn.-based company is considering its options, including filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

“On bankruptcy, Purdue continues to look at a number of options, but no decision has been made, nor is there a set timetable,” Josephson said.

Purdue is best known as the maker of the popular prescription painkiller OxyContin. Rhodes Technologies Inc., a maker of generic opioids in Coventry, is a Purdue subsidiary, according to the attorney general’s suit.

Insys Therapeutics Inc., another company named in the Rhode Island lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy protection in June. In May, Insys founder and former CEO John Kapoor and four former executives were convicted of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy to bribe doctors to boost prescriptions of Subsys, a fentanyl spray intended to treat cancer pain.

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Blake@PBN.com.