HARTFORD - A Hartford Superior Court judge has thrown out the lawsuits filed by New Britain, Bristol and other municipalities seeking monetary relief from Purdue Pharma and other drug companies for the cost of dealing with the opioid crisis.
The city of New Britain is considering what to do next, Mayor Erin Stewart said in a statement. “We are consulting with our attorneys to determine our next course of action, including possibly appealing or pursuing other available avenues of relief,” Stewart said.
“While we are disappointed in the judge’s ruling, the war on opioid abuse will continue,” Stewart said. “We will not give up the fight to make sure this epidemic is stopped, and those who contribute to it are held accountable. We owe the families and individuals who are struggling that much, if not more.”
In his ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Thomas Moukawsher determined that cities had no standing to sue the drug companies, leading to the dismissal of all the cases.
New Britain, Bristol and several other municipalities sued Purdue and other drug companies, claiming that allegedly misleading marketing tactics they used led to residents becoming addicted to opioids. The cities are spending money dealing with policing and other costs associated with dealing with overdoses and criminal behavior due to addiction, the lawsuits contend.
“The explosion in opioid prescription use caused by Defendants has led to a public health crisis in the State of Connecticut, including the City of New Britain,” the city’s lawsuit said. “Connecticut faces skyrocketing opioid addiction and opioid-related overdoses and deaths, as well as devastating social and economic consequences. This public health crisis is a public nuisance to the City of New Britain, because it constitutes unreasonable interference with the public health, safety, peace and welfare of the City.”
Moukawsher ruled that the cities suing were seeking monetary gain to recover the cost of the social ills brought on by drug addiction and have no special authority to sue.
“Specific statutes grant the state and federal government authority to bring these kinds of suits with meeting the ordinary burdens of individual civil plaintiffs,” Moukawsher said in the ruling. “But the cities who have brought the lawsuits this court is considering, by contrast, have no such authority.”
The cities were suing 25 drug companies. Under the law, Moukawsher determined that cities are in the same class as any other person who is considered impacted indirectly by a relative’s drug use, leaving them with no claim.
The cities would need to show that they had been directly financially impacted by the actions of the drug companies to prevail in a lawsuit, the judge said.
“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,” Purude said in a statement released Wednesday. “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.”
Although not the largest cities in the state, New Britain and Bristol have been heavily impacted by the opioid crisis and by accidental overdose deaths. New Britain has continually ranked among the top five municipalities in resident deaths due to overdoses in the past few years.
In 2017, more than 1,000 people statewide died of accidental overdoses.
State Chief Medical Examiner James Gill said a few weeks ago that, based on the number of autopsies his office has conducted in 2018, he estimates that roughly the same number of Connecticut residents died of accidental drug overdoses in 2018 as did the year before. His final figures will be released in late February or early March.
Moukawsher’s ruling does not impact the lawsuit filed against the drug companies by the state.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.