• Local towns want drug companies to pay up to help fund addiction services

    By: Bob Dumas


    BOSTON - The human toll of the opioid crisis across the country is staggering -- resulting in more than 60,000 overdose deaths a year.

    It’s also causing a financial emergency in many cities and towns as they try to fund all the services drug addiction puts a strain on.

    Now many of those communities want the drug companies to pay up as they join a lawsuit which seeks to have the drug companies reimburse them.

    Auburn is one of about 60 Massachusetts municipalities joining the suit.

    “Let's not pretend every single one of us hasn't been touched by this personally, whether it’s a mother or father, daughter or son, sister or brother, a neighbor, a close friend,” Doreen Goodrich, chairman of the Board of Selectman, said.

    As the epidemic claims about 120 people each day, the town feels the strain of answering the call for help.  

    “We are seeing an increase in the number of ambulance calls,” Auburn Town Manager Julie Jacobson, said. “There were impacts in the schools. There were impacts on our work force. There were impacts on the human service agencies that service this community, and the whole county, Worcester county.”

    “There’s a shared responsibility that I think really needs to come across," Malden attorney Richard Sandman said.

    This means going after both the manufacturers and the distributors.

    Sandman said the distributors have one primary responsibility which is to look for red flags and suspicious transactions.  

    “And what the manufacturers did,” Sandman explained, “is opioids are supposed to treat an acute pain issue. They are not supposed to be used for chronic pain over time, and manufacturers dismissed addiction along the way.”

    Jacobson recommended the town get involved because there are no upfront costs. Everything is on a contingency basis.

    Goodrich quickly agreed.  

    “There's no cost to the taxpayers which is a plus," Goodman said. I think that we just need to send a strong message and a clear message to the pharmaceutical companies that you are destroying small communities.”

    Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said communities of all sizes are dealing with the same consequences and that’s it’s time for the drug companies to pay up.  

    “They have made billions and billions and billions of dollars pushing opioids out into the public, in a legal way, but they are as dangerous as drug dealers," Walsh said. "They’re as dangerous as heroin dealers.”

    The effort against drug companies is picking up steam.

    Just this week, U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department will consider legal action as well.

    Sandman thinks he could end up with 200 Massachusetts communities as part of the lawsuit.

    As for the drug companies, an industry spokesperson said they don’t comment on lawsuits against their members.

    Some legal experts are comparing this case to the tobacco lawsuit, when those companies were held accountable for the public health problems associated with smoking.

    Next Up: