Danbury’s Ventura Law filed a lawsuit on behalf of four municipalities against some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in causing the opioid crisis.
The complaint on behalf of Danbury, Norwalk, Ansonia and Derby makes claims similar to lawsuits filed on behalf of more than 20 Connecticut municipalities over the past nine months by Scott + Scott and Simmons Hanly Conroy.
Those claims, outlined in detail in Tuesday’s 107-page lawsuit filed in Milford Superior Court, allege a deliberate marketing scheme to mislead the public on the dangers of opioids. Lawsuits were also filed against Big Pharma recently in Miami and this week in Massachusetts.
The Ventura Law lawsuit alleges the companies—both manufacturers and distributors— conspired to mislead the public. Ventura will partner with Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, a Tennessee-based firm that has filed opioid-related lawsuits on behalf of 47 counties in that state.
The lawsuit states the opioid epidemic “is the direct and forseeable result of the concerted efforts” by Purdue, Cephalon, Janssen, Endo Health Solutions, Insys Therapeutics and Actavis to manufacturer, promote and market opioids. It alleges “material misrepresentations and/or omissions regarding the appropriate use and addiction risks of these opium-like painkillers.”
The lawsuit also claims the defendants “deliberately conceived these strategies and created a new health care narrative, which touted opioids as safe and effective for long-term use and conveyed messaging that pain should be aggressively treated with opioids, trivializing the risk of addiction.”
The Ventura Law complaint is different from the ones filed by other law firms in the state in that it’s the only one to list John Kapoor as a defendant. Kapoor is the founder, former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Insys Therapeutics and currently a majority shareholder of the company, according to the lawsuit. Kapoor, an Arizona resident, and others were indicted in 2017 for paying kickbacks to doctors for writing large numbers of prescriptions, in addition to conspiracy to commit racketeering, mail fraud and wire fraud.
Ventura Law’s Kelly Fitzpatrick, who will be lead counsel with Ventura Law’s chief executive officer Augie Ribeiro, told the Connecticut Law Tribune on Tuesday that the diversity in the four plaintiff municipalities highlights the epidemic’s far reach across all groups.
“The opioid crisis impacts everyone, regardless of status or age or income or race,” Fitzpatrick said. “People in these communities have loved ones who have passed away from opioid-related overdoses, or are addicted and in desperate need of treatment and are living this day in and day out.”
According to the state medical examiner, the total number of overdose deaths, which include opioid deaths, jumped for the first time ever to more than 1,000 in 2017.
While Fitzpatrick declined to discuss strategy or what is next, she did say she’d fight any effort to move the litigation to the multidistrict litigation consolidated in Ohio. To date, there are more than 430 lawsuits brought primarily by cities and counties against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“We believe these cases belong in our backyard,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our juries should be the ones hearing these cases. Connecticut is an appropriate forum for these lawsuits.”
Fitzpatrick said the suit seeks financial remedies, but said it’s too early to say how much money the firm is looking to collect for the communities.
Ansonia and Derby are both working-class communities located in the Naugatuck Valley in New Haven County. Both have populations of between 13,000 and 19,000. Norwalk is in Fairfield County, while Danbury is located in western Connecticut, also in Fairfield County. Norwalk has 88,400 people while Danbury has about 84,000 residents. Mayors of the four municipalities did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Danielle Lewis, director of communications for the Stamford-based Purdue Pharma, issued a statement Tuesday to the Connecticut Law Tribune. Purdue Pharma is the only defendant based in Connecticut.
“As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge,” the statement reads.
Purdue said its products account for about 2 percent of the total opioid prescriptions as a company, and that the company has taken several steps to safeguard patients. For instance, it developed the first FDA-approved opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties, and distributes the Center for Disease Control’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.
“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” the company said.