Lawsuit against drug makers attracting interest

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Like many first responders, Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield keeps a dose of Narcan, a drug to combat opiate overdoses, in his vehicle.

Chatfield, who is also a member of the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department, is not being overly cautious by carrying the medicine. Rather, he is reacting to the opioid crisis that has spread across the state and even into small towns like Prospect.

“It’s in Prospect, and you can’t deny it. It’s unfortunate but it’s here,” Chatfield said. “In 18 months we have had two fatalities from overdoses and eight or nine saves.”

The extent of the crisis is why Prospect decided to join a lawsuit Waterbury is planning to file against makers of opioid drugs.

Last month, Waterbury retained the firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy for the purpose of suing drug makers over the increasing costs and disturbance caused by opioid addiction. The firm has filed cases on behalf of counties in New York state and government bodies elsewhere. This will be a first for Connecticut.

The New York lawsuits accuse drug makers of exaggerating the benefits of opioids while engaging in a campaign of masking the risks to reap profits.

Chatfield said one of the reasons the lawsuit was coming from Waterbury is that some of the opioid deaths in the city are residents from surrounding towns.

“People from the outer towns were coming into Waterbury and they were dying in Waterbury. They would purchase or get the substance and didn’t wait until they got out of town before they took it,” Chatfield said.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said there have been 30 fatal overdoses in Waterbury through last week, and that authorities used opiate antidote Narcan 174 times.

O’Leary said a diverse group of cities and towns have expressed interest in joining the lawsuit.  He said Simmons Hanly Conroy will make a presentation at a meeting of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities in mid-September, and that municipal leaders could sign up afterward.

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the borough is interested in the lawsuit and talking with O’Leary. He said he would not have a definite answer on joining the lawsuit until he saw all the details of it.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik could not be reached for comment.

Chatfield said Prospect will have a subcommittee of first responders to work with Waterbury so that he can get information even if he is unable to attend any of the meetings.

Chatfield said he has seen how pervasive the opioid crisis is in town and the state.

“It hits everybody. It doesn’t recognize race. It doesn’t recognize wealth. It doesn’t recognize who you are in the community. It doesn’t recognize any of that stuff. It could be your brother tomorrow, and you didn’t even know it. It is a terrible disease,” Chatfield said.