PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Lt. Governor Dan McKee announced today that he is leading Rhode Island communities in the fight against the prescription opioid epidemic by holding accountable the companies responsible for fueling the epidemic across Rhode Island. Lt. Governor McKee organized 13 municipalities to file a public nuisance lawsuit against the pharmaceutical drug manufacturers and wholesale drug distributors that made the opioid epidemic possible.
The following communities will be filing suit against five of the largest manufacturers of prescription opioids and their related companies and against the country's three largest wholesale drug distributors: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Cumberland, East Providence, Johnston, North Providence, Pawtucket, Richmond, Warwick, West Greenwich and West Warwick. Lt. Governor McKee expects additional communities to join the effort in coming weeks.
The manufacturing companies pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction, while the distributors breached their legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids.
Because prescription opioids are a highly addictive substance, in 1970 Congress designed a system to control the volume of opioid pills being distributed in this country. It let only a select few wholesalers gain the right to deliver opioids. In exchange, those companies agreed to do a very important job – halt suspicious orders and control against the diversion of these dangerous drugs to illegitimate uses. But in recent years they failed to do that, and today communities across Rhode Island are paying the price.
Lt. Governor McKee and municipal leaders are working with a consortium of law firms to hold pharmaceutical wholesale distributors accountable for failing to do what they were charged with doing under the federal Controlled Substances Act – monitor, identify and report suspicious activity in the size and frequency of opioid shipments to pharmacies and hospitals.
"As lieutenant governor and a former municipal leader, I am determined to do everything in my power to stop this epidemic from further destroying the lives of the people of Rhode Island. Ending this crisis is going to take a major collective effort that involves municipal, state and federal leaders, lawmakers, doctors, law enforcement and health officials coming together to find workable solutions," Lt. Governor McKee said. "But until we address the source of this epidemic and force drug makers and distributors to follow the law, our cities and towns will continue to face an uphill battle."
Rhode Islanders continue to bear the burden of the cost of the epidemic, as the costs of treatment for addiction, education and law enforcement have continued to rise. In 2016, 336 Rhode Islanders died from drug overdose deaths, the majority of which involved opioids.
"As municipal leaders, our job is to look out for the safety and wellbeing of the people who call our communities home," said North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi. "While we bear the burden of this epidemic, multi-billion dollar companies are turning a profit and ignoring the crisis they caused. On behalf of all North Providence residents, I will do everything I can to hold these companies accountable."
"In the last three years alone, 80 residents in my community lost their lives to overdoses. That's 80 of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. It's heartbreaking and it's unacceptable," said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. "As Mayor, it's my job to fight for the safety of every citizen."
The wholesale drug distributors listed as defendants in the lawsuit include: • McKesson • Cardinal Health • AmerisourceBergen Drug.
The manufacturers listed as defendants in the lawsuit include: • Purdue Pharma • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon • Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals • Endo Health Solutions • Allergan, Activis and Watson Pharmaceuticals
Municipal leaders have hired expert law firms, experienced in holding the powerful pharmaceutical industry accountable. Those firms include: the local law firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins; Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor; Baron & Budd; Greene Ketchum Bailey Farrell & Tweel; Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler; and McHugh Fuller Law Group.