Selectmen sign on for opioid lawsuit

BEACON FALLS — Beacon Falls has become the latest town to join Waterbury in a lawsuit against manufacturers of prescription opioid painkillers.

In the lawsuit, Waterbury alleges that drug makers engaged in a coordinated and sophisticated campaign to mask the risks of opioid medications, while exaggerating benefits to create massive profits. Among other tactics, drug makers pushed opioid use for more common ailments, including back pain, arthritis and headaches, according to the suit.

The lawsuit alleges that the companies, through an aggressive marketing campaign, sought to and did change long-standing medical practices that dictated opioids should be used short-term and for terminal illnesses. The promotion of opioids led directly to increased costs for patients, health care insurers, and the payers, such as the borough, the claim alleges.

Town officials have been reviewing whether to join the lawsuit, and the Board of Selectmen on Monday voted unanimously to do so.

In 2016, 917 people overdosed on drugs, mostly opioids, in Connecticut, according to the suit.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said small communities, such as Beacon Falls, haven’t been spared.

“The fact is that we have experienced the actual impact of the opioid crisis on our front door. We have had instances where first responders have responded, have administered Narcan, have brought people back, have been unsuccessful in bringing people back. We have had fatalities in the town of Beacon Falls in the last year and a half that are directly attributed to the opioid crisis as it is,” Bielik said.

There is no cost to the town to join the lawsuit. Law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Waterbury, will get one third of any monetary award the municipalities receive.

If the lawsuit doesn’t hold up in court, Town Attorney Fred Stanek told the board the pharmaceutical companies could bring a lawsuit against the municipalities.

“If it is determined this type of lawsuit is not viable, there is no legal basis for it, the plaintiffs could be sued by the defendants for bringing vexatious litigation,” said Stanek, adding that it’s unlikely to happen.

Selectman Michael Krenesky favored the lawsuit as long as the town didn’t see it as a way to make money.

“I think this is an action we need to participate in. But I want to make it clear that my decision to join this is not for the money. It is for the principle of it,” Krenesky said.

Bielik said the intent isn’t to cash in.

“The consideration of this motion is in no way intended to reap any kind of monetary windfall for the town of Beacon Falls,” Bielik said. “The intention is simply to become a part of this in order to solve a problem and bring attention to it much more than any potential monetary gain.”