R.I. communities sue opioid manufacturers, distributors as public nuisances

MULTIPLE RHODE ISLAND communities are suing opioid manufacturers and distributors as public nuisances. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/KIYOSHI OTA
MULTIPLE RHODE ISLAND communities are suing opioid manufacturers and distributors as public nuisances. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/KIYOSHI OTA

PROVIDENCE — Fourteen Rhode Island communities led by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee are filing a public nuisance lawsuit against five of the largest pharmaceutical drug manufacturers and the three largest wholesale drug distributors, companies that McKee and community leaders say made the opioid epidemic possible.

The wholesale drug distributors listed as defendants in the lawsuit include: McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation.

The manufacturers listed as defendants in the lawsuit include: Perdue Pharma LP; Endo Health Solutions Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and its subsidiary, Cephalon; as well as Allergan, Activis and Watson Pharmaceuticals; Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Lt. Governor Dan McKee announced the lawsuit in cooperation with the communities of Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Coventry, Cumberland, East Providence, Johnston, North Providence, Pawtucket, Richmond, Warwick, West Greenwich and West Warwick.

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Municipal leaders have hired law firms experienced in holding the powerful pharmaceutical industry accountable, to pursue the lawsuit, McKee said.

Those firms include: the local law firm of 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.

The lawsuit comes about a week after the state reported a nine percent drop in the number of overdose deaths in 2017 during the first eight months of the year. While the Ocean State was among few states that reported a drop in the number of overdose deaths this year, it also has the fifth highest overdose death rate in the nation, with 28.2 percent (the number of deaths per 100,000 total population), at 310 deaths.

The lawsuit alleges the companies failed in their duty to protect the public under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Under the act, a select few wholesalers gained the right to deliver opioids, according to McKee. In exchange, those companies agreed to halt suspicious orders and control against the diversion of the drugs to illegitimate uses.

“But in recent years they failed to do that, and today communities across Rhode Island are paying the price,” McKee said.

“In the last three years alone, 80 residents in my community lost their lives to overdoses. That’s 80 of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. It’s heartbreaking and it’s unacceptable,” said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian in support of the lawsuit. “As Mayor, it’s my job to fight for the safety of every citizen.”

“As municipal leaders, our job is to look out for the safety and wellbeing of the people who call our communities home,” said North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi. “While we bear the burden of this epidemic, multi-billion dollar companies are turning a profit and ignoring the crisis they caused. On behalf of all North Providence residents, I will do everything I can to hold these companies accountable.”

“As lieutenant governor and a former municipal leader, I am determined to do everything in my power to stop this epidemic from further destroying the lives of the people of Rhode Island. Ending this crisis is going to take a major collective effort that involves municipal, state and federal leaders, lawmakers, doctors, law enforcement and health officials coming together to find workable solutions,”  McKee said. “But until we address the source of this epidemic and force drug makers and distributors to follow the law, our cities and towns will continue to face an uphill battle.”

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com. 

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