By Seth Daniel
The City of Everett is now one of several communities from Massachusetts that have signed on to a nationwide lawsuit aimed at making opiate drug manufacturers and distributers pay for past and future recovery efforts incurred by municipalities across America due to the Opiate Epidemic.
In his Inaugural Address on Jan. 2, Mayor Carlo DeMaria announced that Everett would officially sign on with a law firm in Boston and Malden to become part of the nationwide case. The situation with opiate drug manufacturers and distributors has roiled Mayor DeMaria since last fall when a groundbreaking report on the TV news magazine ’60 Minutes’ showed that many small, rural pharmacies were becoming “pill farms,” where far too many pills were being suspiciously ordered from distributors.
That allegation, in fact, is part of the lawsuit.
“On behalf of our city, I am signing onto a lawsuit against the corporate drug distributors who ignored suspiciously large orders, and funneled millions of pills into small-town ‘pain clinics’ that were merely a front for crime rings – all to increase their profits year over year as the addiction crisis continued to spiral,” said the mayor in his Address. “It makes me sick, and they should pay for what they have done to our society. On the other side, I want to thank those non-profits, public agencies and individuals who are out there every day fighting for those who are in crisis.”
According to Attorney Peter Merrigan of Sweeney Merrigan Law in Boston – who are co-leaders of the lawsuit in Massachusetts – the case for Everett is being prepared and will be filed in the next two weeks along with others already filed.
Those who are also in on the suit in Massachusetts are Methuen, Greenfield, and Revere’s case is to be filed any day. About 12 other communities have made verbal commitments, he said. Damages in the case, he said, are hard to put into numbers right now, but he said that would be determined as the case moves through the process.
“We are bringing suit on behalf of individual municipalities throughout Massachusetts against the manufacturers and distributers of opioids,” Merrigan said on Tuesday. “We are seeking damages for cities and towns, and those damages are forward looking and backward looking.”
For the backward looking damages, that includes costs incurred by Everett for local recovery services. That could include recovery programs instituted by the city, NARCAN costs and EMS costs – all as a result of the increase in opiates.
For the forward looking damages, that could include payment for more services and existing services. That could include long-term recovery services, prevention measures and educational programs.
“For the manufacturers, we believe they misrepresented the addictive nature of opiates to the public,” he said. “The distributers piece is much more complex…DEA rules require them to report suspicious orders, such as having large orders going to small pharmacies where there aren’t enough people to buy the opioids. What we found is they didn’t do that.”
The distributing companies include McKesson, Amerisource Bergen and Cardinal Health, Merrigan said. They are very large companies will billions in revenues, and thus they have the ability to pay for what cities and towns believe is their fault.
“They are three of the biggest 15 companies in America with gross revenues of more than $400 billion,” said Merrigan. “They have been able to make those tremendous profits and with it they’ve had one important safety measure and that is report possible safety violations and we found they didn’t do that.”
The suits involving Massachusetts cities and towns, including Everett’s upcoming filing, start out in Boston Federal Court. However, all of them across the U.S. are being transferred to the Northern Ohio District Court in Cleveland. There, a judge has already held the first hearing on the case late last week.
Merrigan said it was encouraging that the judge was aggressive in his first statements, saying he wasn’t going to make a ruling as to why people were dying, but that the problem should be solved. He pushed both parties to begin talking about what a settlement would look like in the case.
With some 200 cases nationwide, Merrigan said his group and other attorneys working on the case have a lot of work to do, but they have the resources.
“It’s a big undertaking,” said Merrigan. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work. But by working with other lawyers, we have a significant resource pool to utilize. That will avoid any significant resource commitments from the cities and towns.”
Mayor DeMaria and the City have made significant resource allocations, however, over the last few years to curb the effects of the opiate epidemic in Everett.
Last week, they announced a new monthly drop-in night center that will start on Jan. 25 and be part of the overall Roadmap to Recovery program. This initiative aims to aid families and individuals in navigating the accessibility of resources in Everett and to provide information and possible solutions for Substance Use Disorder.
Previously, last February, DeMaria hired the City’s first Substance Abuse Clinician, Tory Cyrus. Her job is to work with several City departments, including the Fire, Police and Health Departments, to address issues surrounding the opiate epidemic.
They have also hired Paul Guarino, who is paid via a grant that allows him to monitor youth prescription opiate misuse. He focuses on implementing local policy, practice and systems to prevent young people from getting more than a 30-day supply of prescription opiates. That, many believe, has been the gateway to addiction to the pills that are the focus of the lawsuit.
The City has also hired a navigator in partnership with other organizations to help those in crisis find recovery opportunities.
All of those programs, as well as future programming, could be funded by the lawsuit if it is successful.
“We feel individual communities like Everett joining the litigation will allow dollars to do directly into the community to help it,” Merrigan said. “This is a community problems and the goal of this litigation is to create a community solution.”
Merrigan’s firm is the co-local counsel in Massachusetts with Rodman, Rodman and Sandman in Malden.