Four Connecticut-based union locals have sued the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of misleading the public about the dangers of prescription opioids.
The four locals—Teamsters Locals 493, 671 and 677 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 90—filed separate suits on behalf of their health funds in U.S. District Court in Connecticut Monday. The locals represents more than 7,200 people.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of similar litigation filed by three Connecticut municipalities.
The identical lawsuits, which include the same two attorneys, claim the manufacturers misled and outright lied about the risks of opioids.
The lawsuits, which name 29 defendant companies or individuals, claim manufacturers “trivialized the risk of long-term and higher dosage opioid therapy” and had a “scheme to change prescriber habits and public perception.”
The attorneys representing the unions are Robert Cheverie, a solo practitioner from East Hartford, and James Ferraro Jr., of The Ferraro Law Firm in Miami, Florida. Neither attorney responded to a request for comment.
The lawsuits were necessary because the plaintiffs have been “victimized by the fraudulent and misleading scheme perpetrated by these drug manufacturers, distributors, promoters and sellers,” according to the complaint. “These companies and individuals put profits ahead of patient safety. … The plaintiff has paid for a substantial amount of the opioid-related health care costs including prescriptions, addiction and rehabilitation, overdose and alternative drug treatments incurred by its members.”
The lawsuits go on to say the defendants created a false perception of the safety of opioids. “Defendants accomplished that false perception through a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive and unfair marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive in or about 2006, and continues to the present,” according to the lawsuits.
The lawsuits seek to recover the costs associated with treatment, hospitalization, addiction and rehabilitation treatment for members. The suits do not state how much in damages the unions are seeking.
The lawsuits cite seven counts: Violation of 18 U.S. Code 1962(C) related to promotion of opioid drugs pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; violation of 18 U.S. Code 1962(D), which relates to RICO conspiracy; fraudulent concealment; conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment; and negligence.
Three Connecticut municipalities recently filed similar suits against the manufacturers and distributors. Waterbury filed suit in August, New Haven filed suit in November and New Britain filed earlier this month. Those suits are all pending.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered nearly all 180 federal lawsuits brought by cities, counties and states to be transferred to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in the Northern District of Ohio. While the four union local lawsuits were not filed on behalf of a government entity, they could still be consolidated with the same judge.
John Puskar, Purdue Pharma public affairs director, did not respond to a request for comment. Purdue Pharma is one of the more than two dozen defendants.
In previous statements, Puskar said Purdue Pharma is dedicated to being part of the solution. The company states that it developed the first FDA-approved opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties and partners with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. In addition, Purdue Pharma has said it denies the allegations.
Within the past year alone, at least 25 states, cities and counties have filed civil cases against manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains that make up the $13 billion-a-year opioid industry. It is not clear how many unions have filed such suits.