More Deaths Than Vietnam: Fiorentini Tells of Motivations Behind Drug Lawsuit

City councilors will learn Tuesday night about Haverhill’s plans to sue the pharmaceutical industry for its role in the opioid crisis.

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

In 2016, the last full year for which state figures are available, Haverhill had 38 opioid-related deaths—up from 31 the year before. Additional deaths may be added upon confirmation by the state medical examiner In an interview with WHAV, Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini explained the motivation behind his administration’s suit.

“We’ve now lost more people in Massachusetts to the opioid crisis than Massachusetts lost during the entire Vietnam war. We run the risk of losing an entire generation of young people. We have to do everything we possibly can in order to abate this crisis.”

Haverhill joins a growing number of communities suing the country’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributers to attempt to make them pay for, what the city calls, “their leading role in the opioid crisis,” the mayor said. Haverhill City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. will tell city councilors the city is hiring the New York law firm Scott & Scott.

“So, we’ve signed on to this lawsuit. Bill Cox looked into a number of excellent firms that are handling lawsuits against big pharmaceutical companies and we chose this one and we’ll see what happens,” the mayor said.

Communities across the country, including Springfield in Massachusetts, have already joined Scott & Scott’s lawsuit, which accuses 10 drug companies and distributors of civil conspiracy, fraud, negligence and recklessness, public nuisance and violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act.

The council’s approval is not required, but members will have a chance to ask questions before the city joins the lawsuit.

The suit claims pharmaceutical companies lied about the long-term effects of its opioid-based products and failed to maintain control over drug distribution. Haverhill aims to recover money it has spent fighting the opioid crisis, including for services provided by the police and fire departments as well as ambulance, medical and counseling services, and education efforts, Fiorentini said.

According to the lawsuit, municipalities could also be reimbursed for expenses such as: providing social services for addicted persons, training and providing the anti-overdose drug Narcan to emergency personnel, healthcare and workers compensation for city employees and/or their families affected by the crisis and police costs due to additional prosecutions.

The lawsuit names such manufacturers as Purdue Pharma L.P., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceutical, Endo International Plc., Allegan and GlaxoSmithKline, Inc. The major distributors named in the suit include McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and Cardinal Health.