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City of Boston pursues litigation against the pharmaceutical industry

The City of Boston has filed a complaint against 13 opioid manufacturers, four distributors, and one local doctor.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the City of Boston has filed a complaint in Suffolk Superior Court against 13 opioid manufacturers, four distributors, and one local doctor that have contributed to the local opioid epidemic through misleading marketing and reckless dissemination of opioids that has led to the deaths of more than 723 Boston residents since 2013. As part of the litigation, the City is seeking to recover both past and future damages and injunctive relief associated with addressing the opioid epidemic in Boston. 

"Boston has reached a breaking point in the fight against the opioid epidemic," said Mayor Walsh. "We have a public health crisis on our hands that has steadily gotten worse in recent years and even though we have been increasing access to critical treatments and supports, we can't fight this alone. It's time to hold accountable the companies that created and fostered this crisis and pursue remedies to stop its harmful marketing tactics." 

The litigation focuses on several pharmaceutical companies that irresponsibly saturated the market with opioids, knowingly putting consumers at risk for addiction. The defendants manufacture, market, and sell prescription opioid pain medications, including the brand-name drugs OxyContin and Percocet, and generic drugs such as oxycodone.

In addition, the suit alleges opioid drugs have been marketed in a misleading, deceptive and dangerous way, which helped give rise to the opioid epidemic in the City of Boston and throughout the country. Between 2010 and 2016, an average of 457 mg of oxycodone were dispersed per Boston resident, which is double the state average and nearly three times over the national average. 

"My first experience with opioids came with an emergency room prescription for a minor injury when I was 14," said Jared Owen, an individual in long-term recovery who now works for the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR). "I fell in love with the way they made me feel. I remember stealing OxyContin that my dad had been prescribed when I was in high school, and getting it from some dealers when I was in graduate school at MIT. They were expensive, so like many other people, I turned to heroin."

The City asserts that the increased dissemination of opioids correlates directly to skyrocketing addiction, overdose and death; black markets for diverted prescriptions opioids; and an accompanying rise in heroin and fentanyl abuse by individuals who could no longer legally acquire or afford prescription opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified addiction to prescription pain medication as the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction.

"The opioid epidemic has inflicted unprecedented suffering on the people of Boston," said Michael Botticelli, executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine. "Boston Medical Center sees its impact on a daily basis in the people brought to our emergency room, inpatient beds, and those seeking treatment services. The Grayken Center is proud to support the Mayor in his efforts to bring this suffering to an end and to show our support for his actions today to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for their role in creating this epidemic."

"At The Dimock Center, our number one priority is patient care, especially as we face the ongoing unprecedented opioid epidemic," said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, President and CEO of The Dimock Center. "The opioid epidemic touches everyone, regardless of race, socioeconomic status and geographic locations. And we have all been touched by it personally and/or via family and friends. Dimock's integrated services model and continuum of care remains committed to breaking down barriers to provide the help that is needed. In response to this immediate need, we have increased our capacity to include 40 beds thus reaching 4,000 patients annually, welcoming men and women from our neighborhood and across the Commonwealth to begin their road to recovery."

"I am happy to stand with Mayor Walsh and support his efforts to seek damages associated with the opioid epidemic here in Boston," said City Councilor Frank Baker. "The crisis we are in today is due in large part to deceptive practices within the pharmaceutical industry. Despite our best efforts to combat this crisis, it continues to get worse. It is my hope we can use the funding from this litigation to help build a real recovery campus on Long Island."  

The City is seeking relief to recover approximately $64 million spent to combat the opioid epidemic, plus the necessary funds to abate the crisis, in addition to future damages the City will incur as the epidemic progresses. Almost all City departments have been impacted, including the Boston Fire Department, Boston Police Department, Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Emergency Medical Services, Boston Public Library, Boston Parks and Recreation Department, Inspectional Services Department, Property Management, and Boston Public Schools. 

Having been in recovery for over 20 years, Mayor Walsh understands firsthand how easily addiction can take hold and how difficult it can be to recover. In his first term, Mayor Walsh made expanding access to recovery services in Boston a priority by creating the Office of Recovery Services to study substance use in Boston and lead the city's strategy around substance use disorders, addiction and recovery. This is the first and only municipal recovery office in the nation.

In addition, Mayor Walsh mandated the life-saving medication naloxone (Narcan) be carried in every public safety vehicle in the city in his first two weeks in office and launched a new 24/7 hotline through 311 to help people struggling with addiction access all levels of recovery services.

Continuing these efforts into his second term, Mayor Walsh announced in his inaugural speech that his Administration will rebuild the Long Island Bridge and invest in a comprehensive, long-term recovery facility on Long Island. These new services will offer a continuum of care, from harm reduction, to detox, to residential treatment, to transitional housing and ongoing peer support, and equip people with the opportunity to rebuild a life.

The City retained Motley Rice in June 2018 to represent the City of Boston in litigation against the pharmaceutical industry for their role in the opioid crisis, following a Request for Information to inform the City's approach for developing a potential legal strategy. Motley Rice is one of the nation's largest and most successful plaintiffs' firms and is playing a leading role in helping state and local governments across the country address the opioid crisis by investigating and litigating against pharmaceutical companies and seeking to hold them accountable for misconduct that helped give rise to the opioid crisis. 

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