New Milford, Bridgeport, Oxford and two other state communities made verbal commitments recently to join Waterbury’s lawsuit against Stamford-based Purdue Pharma and other drug makers over the opioid overdose crisis.

“New Milford is like every other community across the state and across the country that is suffering as a result of this epidemic — and when I say suffering, I mean suffering,” New Milford Mayor David Gronbach said. “People are dying. This has infiltrated every single community.”

Bristol and Naugatuck also made verbal commitments last week to sign a retainer with the national law firm, Simmons Hanly Conroy, that is filing the litigation. As many as 20 other cities and towns, including Danbury and Ridgefield, are considering similar action.

“Waterbury is the first Connecticut city to join the growing list of municipalities around the country that have concluded that the defendant drug companies must be held responsible for their conspiratory and fraudulent actions and the injuries and costs that have resulted from the opioid epidemic,” said lead attorney Paul Hanly shortly before a gathering of state leaders Aug. 31 in Waterbury. “The defendants have manufactured, promoted and marketed opioids by omitting critical information that has long been known about the drugs’ addictive qualities and other risks associated with their prolonged use.”

Last week’s show of strength in Waterbury included leaders from New Milford, Ridgefield, Roxbury, Bridgeport and Darien, who say drug companies should be held responsible for a crisis expected to result in 1,000 overdose deaths in Connecticut this year.

“Communities throughout Connecticut have been suffering the devastating effects of this opioid epidemic for years, and we in Waterbury believe it is time to take a stand,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said in a prepared statement. “The effects stretch throughout the state and have destroyed families, flooded emergency rooms and overwhelmed emergency services. We are pleased that so many of the leaders of our neighboring cities and towns came today to hear about our course of action, and we expect many will be joining us in this litigation.”

A spokesman for Purdue, which manufactures the popular opioid painkiller OxyContin, said the company has been working to minimize the drug’s addictive effects.

“While we vigorously deny the allegations, we share local officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions,” spokesman Robert Josephson said.

The lawsuit filed Aug. 31 in state Superior Court in Waterbury is part of a nationwide strategy to sign up as many as 500 municipalities willing to sue Big Pharma, Hanly said.

Hanly has commitments from 10 counties in New York, including Suffolk County, which accused drug makers in a lawsuit last summer of misleading the public about the addictive risks of opioids.

Hanly said opioids are the scourge of the 21st century, just as the tobacco industry was the scourge of the 1990s.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said the city is trying to learn the lesson from the 1998 settlement with Big Tobacco, when states won major concessions from the industry, but settlement money did not trickle down to the local level.

“If there is a way to negotiate a settlement, we ought to do that,” said Boughton, who said Danbury has already met with Purdue Pharma. “If we cannot get the response from the company, we want to track where large amounts of these prescription drugs are going or to set aside a large pool of money for rehabilitation; then this lawsuit is definitely an option.”

Boughton’s counterpart in Ridgefield, First Selectman Rudy Marconi, agreed litigation is part of a wider strategy.

“We can go ahead and commence litigation, which I think we need to do, but at the same time we can’t sit back because that is only a small battle in the overall war on drugs,” he said. “One thing we need to look at seriously is to begin limiting the number of prescriptions.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342