Local leaders announce opioid lawsuit

Every day, families across western Massachusetts are impacted by the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Wednesday morning local leaders took action against pharmaceutical companies they say are to blame.

"Over the past five years we have responded to an average of 136 overdose calls," said West Springfield Fire Chief, William Flaherty.

Fourteen western Massachusetts cities and towns have filed suit against the nation's largest drug manufacturers and distributors.

The lawsuit alleges that these companies dumped millions of dollars worth of prescription opiates into their communities, making the opioid epidemic possible.

According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, more than 30 cities and towns statewide have joined lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and distributors to recover municipal costs resulting from the epidemic

The MMA says most of the opioid cases focus on five major pharmaceutical companies: Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan.

 Janssen Pharmaceuticals sent a statement to 22News Wednesday saying:

Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis.

Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible. The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among this class of medications.

The MMA also says the three major drug distributors named in the most cases are AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp.

A representative of AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson emailed 22News a statement from the senior vice president at Healthcare Distribution Alliance:

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.” -- John Parker, SVP, Healthcare Distribution Alliance 

When accessing Perdue Pharma's website you come across an automatic response to the opioid epidemic.

"It's infuriating... you get a plain vanilla response... I mean how dismissive is that of human lives," said Easthampton Mayor, Nicole LaChapelle.

According to the states Health Department, nearly 500 people have died in 2018 alone of an opioid-related overdose.

During the conference this morning Chief  Flaherty told 22News they were called to an apparent opioid overdose right off of Riverdale Street just before 8 this morning. He confirmed that a 20-year-old victim had died as a result. 

22News reached out to other companies involved for a statement on this lawsuit, but have not gotten a response.

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