Towns to stay the course in legal battle against makers of prescription opioid drugs

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Beacon Falls, Naugatuck and Prospect will stick with Waterbury as the city appeals a court dismissal of a high-profile lawsuit against the makers of prescription opioid drugs.

Waterbury launched Connecticut’s first municipal lawsuit against several makers of opioid drugs last year. Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary appeared before television cameras in City Hall, flanked by other municipal officials, blaming drug makers of fueling an opioid crisis for profit.

The city was among 37 Connecticut municipalities to sign onto lawsuits seeking to reclaim millions of dollars in costs to respond to the crisis.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled Jan. 8 the lawsuits were not allowed because they were not filed as government enforcement actions authorized by state public interest laws.

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who worked as a lawyer for nearly 40 years before being elected to his first term as mayor in 2015, said he wants the borough to stay the course.

“I have reviewed the decision and feel there are several legal errors,” Hess said. “My recommendation is we join them in the appeal.”

Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the town is committed to moving forward as well.

“Beacon Falls will definitely join in on the appeal as it moves forward,” Bielik said.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said the town has been with Waterbury since it first put forward the idea of the lawsuit and won’t back out now.

“We will most definitely join the appeal with Waterbury,” Chatfield said.

Purdue Pharma officials said the judge was right to conclude opioid manufacturers cannot be held responsible to municipalities for indirect harms from the opioid crisis.

“We are pretty confident we will prevail on appeal,” outside counsel James Hartley, representing Waterbury, said last week. “Every other court that has looked at this across the country has sided with the towns and cities. We think this is an aberration.”

The suits have resulted in no legal costs for municipalities, Hartley said, as his firm and others involved are bearing all legal costs in anticipation for a portion of the eventual payout from drug companies.

Cities and towns have until Jan. 28 to file a notice with the Connecticut Appellate Court, Hartley said. He predicts it could take up to 18 months for a decision.