Washington – Former Attorney General George Jepsen to Connecticut towns: drop your opioid lawsuits.
Before leaving office in January, Jepsen led a coalition of 36 attorneys general who were investigating the role of the nation’s opioid manufacturers and the major distributors of the narcotics in the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Although a multi-state lawsuit has not been filed yet, the attorneys general hope their efforts result in a settlement, in the billions of dollars, that would allow their states to implement new prevention and treatment programs.
But Jepsen said the proliferation of lawsuits by counties, cities and towns complicate the legal process “making it much harder for the state-led eﬀort to convince the industry to agree to a comprehensive settlement.”
In a Sunday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Jepsen said “to resolve this logjam, attorneys general should structure state-centric deals under which localities can beneﬁt if they drop their lawsuits.”
Several Connecticut towns that have filed opioid lawsuits, including Waterbury and Hartford, did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comments on Jepsen’s idea.
New Haven, New Britain, Naugatuck, Southbury, Woodbury, Fairfield, Beacon Falls, Milford, Oxford, West Haven, North Haven, Thomaston, East Hartford, Southington, Newtown, Shelton and Tolland have also filed opioid suits.
In Washington, D.C. on Monday to attend a conference of attorneys general, Jepsen told the CT Mirror that the companies named in the roughly 2,000 lawsuits filed by counties, cities and towns across the nation “are not going to settle unless they achieve a global settlement.”
Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceutical, and Janssen Pharmaceutical are among the drug companies named in the lawsuits.
Reuters on Monday reported that Stamford-based Purdue is considering filing for bankruptcy to limit its potential role in the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic.
Purdue Pharma has no debt, but is the maker of OxyContin and two other opioid drugs. The company has been accused of promoting its narcotics as safe even though company officials knew they were dangerously addictive.
Counties and municipalities are also suing major drug distributors, like McKesson and Cardinal Health, claiming they shipped alarming quantities of narcotics without reporting to the authorities.
“It’s frustrating when people desperately need treatment. It’s frustrating that the possibility of a global settlement is being stymied by all of these lawsuits,” Jepsen said.
A state judge in January dismissed opioid lawsuits filed by Connecticut cities and towns, saying they had no standing to sue. Appeals of this decision are expected. And other Connecticut towns are pursuing lawsuits in federal court.
Jepsen said the attorneys general won’t have “an easy road” making their cases in court, either.
“Many observers compare the opioid cases to the 1998 national tobacco settlement, in which cigarette makers have paid more than $126 billion to the states. There are complicating diﬀerences,” he said . “Opioids have legitimate medical uses and were marketed primarily to doctors, while tobacco companies pitched consumers directly.”
Jepsen is now an attorney in private practice and restricted from taking part in any opioid lawsuit. Although he’s no longer involved in the multi-state investigation – that job has been left to his successor, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong – Jepsen said he has a personal and continuing interest in the issue.
“I’ve always been interested in public policy and this is the public health crisis of our time,” Jepsen said. Besides its involvement in the multi-state investigation, the state of Connecticut has independently filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and officers of the company, including several members of the Sackler family that owns the company.