New Milford joins opioid lawsuit

NEW MILFORD — The town is the latest municipality to file suit in an effort to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their roles in the opioid crisis.

The Town Council unanimously voted at Monday’s special meeting to join Waterbury and at least 10 New York counties in what backers hope will become a nationwide class action suit.

“This is a great start to hold those people who are profiting from this to start paying,” Mayor David Gronbach said.

Simons Hanley Conroy, of New York City, the law firm leading the lawsuit, said it would make the pharmaceutical companies help pay for the consequences of the opioid crisis, much like what happened with tobacco companies years ago.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary initiated the lawsuit effort, but other elected leaders in Connecticut are considering joining, including those in Danbury and Ridgefield. Discussions among leaders started about a year ago.

The towns are not responsible for any legal costs.

“It’s zero risk,” Town Attorney John Tower told the council at the meeting.

Paul Hanley, the lead attorney in the case, said at least 500 counties and cities across the country are needed to join to be successful. He’s also reaching out to county officials in Illinois, Missouri and Texas.

His firm has been successful in this arena. It filed 1,000 separate lawsuits at one time against Purdue Pharma, the Stamford-based maker of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, resulting in Purdue’s payment of $75 million in 2006 to settle allegations of fraudulent marketing.

Several other lawsuits have been filed against Purdue and other opioid manufacturers by the states of Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma, as well as counties in Illinois and West Virginia and the city of Everett, Wash.

The company has denied the allegations.

Connecticut’s association of cities and towns said it supports the lawsuit initiative.

Like many communities across the country, New Milford has struggled with the growing opioid epidemic. The town recorded four deaths from heroin overdoses in 2013, five in 2014 and six in 2015.

Statewide, there were 917 reported drug overdose deaths last year, which is more than the number of residents who died from homicides, suicides and car accidents combined.

“We can’t just afford to wait for the federal and state government to do it for us,” Gronbach said. “We’re suffering enough.”

He said the case also sets a precedent and stressed that New Milford wasn’t alone. He said he expects at least another 20 to 30 Connecticut municipalities to join.

KKoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345