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Photo : Javier Maria Trigo
Photo: Javier Maria Trigo

The City of Waterbury has begun a lawsuit against multiple drug manufacturers. In a complaint filed with Waterbury Superior Court, the city accuses Connecticut based Purdue Pharma and others for what it’s calling: “The aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the city and throughout the nation.”

Other companies listed as defendants include Purdue Frederick Company Inc. — parent company of Purdue Pharma — Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc, Cephalon Inc, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc, Endo Health Solutions Inc and Endo Pharmaceuticals.

Three physicians, Dr. Perry Fine, Dr. Scott Fishman and Dr. Lynn Webster are also listed in Waterbury’s complaint. According to a similar lawsuit filed in OH, doctors known as Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) played a big part of the fraudulent marketing scheme to present Continued Medical Education (CME).

“Defendants paid KOLs to serve as consultants or on their advisory boards and to give talks or present CMEs, and their support helped these KOLs become respected industry experts. As they rose to prominence, these KOLs touted the benefits of opioids to treat chronic pain, repaying Defendants by advancing their marketing goals. KOLs’ professional reputations became dependent on continuing to promote a pro-opioid message, even in activities that were not directly funded by Defendants.” O’Leary said, “This is going to be a joint effort both locally, statewide and I’m sure the federal government will be getting involved.”

Attorney Jim Hartley, told WNPR that Waterbury has “exorbitant opioid addiction treatment costs.” A complaint has now been filed with the courts.

Other towns are expected to join the lawsuit.

“The opioid crisis is taking resources that could be used elsewhere. But even more than that, it’s destroying the fabric of families,” Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne said.

Bridgeport’s Mayor Joseph Ganim said the lawsuit is a “good first step” and, besides the monetary aspect, he says we have a “moral duty to stop these companies [and] hopefully save lives.”

Waterbury has one of the highest number of overdose cases in Connecticut with the numbers consistently going up. Although historically, the focus of opioid abuse was aimed at cities like Waterbury, rural towns actually have a higher rate of death per capita. If you are judging by incarceration rates, the opioid problem is in the cities, if you judge by the overdose rates, the problem is everywhere.

Owner of Purdue Pharma

Purdue Pharma is a privately held company owned by a Connecticut family, the Sacklers.

Dr. Raymond R. Sackler and his wife, Beverly.  Photo credit Tel-Aviv University
Dr. Raymond R. Sackler and his wife, Beverly.
Photo credit Tel-Aviv University

The Sacklers were featured on the Forbes’ 2015 list of “America’s Richest Families” and have an estimated net worth of 14 billion dollars. LA Times report shows how Purdue sold the pills as 12-hour pain relief, claiming OxyContin would “improve patients’ lives,” but in reality, many people had their lives destroyed.

Highlights from the 1996 press release claiming OxyContin lasts 12 hours.

The rate of overdose deaths by people older than 50 is growing faster than any other age group, but addiction doesn’t discriminate by age and high school kids are getting hooked on OxyContin by simply following their doctors orders.

In the comments of an LAT article, jolu1012 wrote

My son became addicted to Oxycontin at age 23 after he was prescribed the drug for an old debilitating sports injury. Within two years he was a heroin addict and has spent time in prison for his addiction (felony drug possession). He was an intelligent, educated young man who had a bright future and a bad back. Now he’s a felon, struggling to find work–but he’s in recovery. And yes, I blame Purdue, and his doctor who over prescribed this drug for too long.
For those of you who think it can’t happen to you or your loved ones you have only to look at the opiate epidemic in this country–it isn’t the “problems of a few.” It’s a huge and dangerous problem and it isn’t going away. The Sacklers and Purdue are criminals–they’re the drug dealers.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma and three executives plead guilty to criminal charges of misbranding. Its parent company agreed to pay $600 million in fines (2% of profits). The three executives were given $34.5 million in fines to settle the case.

Purdue has changed the time release coating to prevent crushing OxyContin as a way to increase its strength but other pills are talking it’s place, with similar deadly results. Perc 30’s, sometimes called “Roxy’s” contain a generic oxycodone and are produced by different manufacturers.

“They’re the new drug of choice for prescription drug addicts,” said Lt. Richard Fuller of the Weymouth police.

“[People] are dying from them, just like they did from oxy and just like they did from heroin,” said Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn to Cope. “Their lives go down the tubes just as quickly as with all the other drugs.”

As access to pharmaceutical opioids is tightening, it has become easier for people abusing pills to switch to heroin because it is cheaper, more plentiful, and less difficult to get.

Waterbury’s case should help bring attention to this epidemic, but if a monetary settlement is awarded, it should be used to increase access to mental health professionals and rehabilitation programs as well as preventative education instead of criminal prosecution.

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Eric Bierce
Contributing from Waterbury, CT. I'm passionate about social justice and human rights. I enjoy telling the truth as I see it, without apology. You might find me playing Ukulele on my patio when I'm not distracted by the political madness.

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