Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Monday, Jan. 22 that his office is considering mass tort litigation against several pharmaceutical companies for their role in the ongoing opioid crisis affecting the city and the United States as a whole.
The potential move follows the lead of other Massachusetts municipalities — such as Quincy and Greenfield — as well as other states and cities nationwide, who believe that drug companies are directly responsible for the rise in addiction.
The Office of the Mayor made known in a press statement that they have been meeting with law firms and researching pharmaceutical companies’ role in the crisis for several months. On Monday, Feb. 5, Mayor Walsh will issue a request “seeking information from law firms, researchers and other interested parties that would inform the city’s approach to potential opioid litigation.”
Walsh sayid that whether or not they move forward with legal action depends on what they uncover.
Mayor Walsh accused drug companies of being “main offender and sustainer of the opioid crisis,” citing their oversaturation of the prescription market with opiates, coupled with misleading advertising strategies directed at both prescribers and consumers.
“Their distribution and marketing of narcotics is unforgivingly reckless,” Mayor Walsh said. “[It is] causing irreversible devastation to our families and significant damages to cities nationwide.”
Mayor Walsh has yet to say which pharmaceutical companies the litigation would be targeting, however, if lawsuits from other cities and states are any indicator, Purdue Pharma will be one target.
Purdue created the extremely potent painkiller OxyContin in 1995, and has a long history of using misinformation to increase the sales of their medication. As The New Yorker reported in October 2017, Purdue executives told sales managers to promote OxyContin as “virtually non-addicting.” They bribed doctors with all expenses paid trips, they sent promotional videos of “satisfied patients” to doctors.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from opioid overdose, and four out of five people who have tried heroin did so as a cheaper and easier to obtain alternative to prescription opioids like OxyContin. All the while, sales of the painkiller have reaped tens of billions of dollars not only for Purdue Pharma, but also the Sackler family, who are behind the drug’s creation and rise.
On Jan. 25, Mayor Walsh was in the nation’s capital attending a meeting for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where he participated in a panel discussing the country’s opioid crisis. Alongside him was Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, who spoke on his experience with the sway drug companies have in the medical field.
“We have a tremendous increase in [opioid] supply,” Dr. Murthy said.“When I was in med school, we were taught that as long as somebody had legitimate pain, you could write them scripts for opioid medication and they would not get addicted. Now we look back on that and we feel foolish. Just two years ago, I was in Florida visiting a friend who’s a cardiologist, and I said ‘can you imagine we were taught that in med school?’ He puts down his fork and he says, ‘Wait you mean that’s not true?’”
At the Jan. 24 Boston City Council meeting, Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Annissa Essaibi-George filed a hearing order to discuss the results of Mayor Walsh’s information request for the potential lawsuit. “More than 2,000 people died of accidental overdoses in 2016,” Councilor Pressley said in a press release. “It is imperative that the pharmaceutical companies who marketed powerful opioids without properly informing physicians and patients of their dangers bear responsibility for the enormous toll this crisis has taken on our city and state’s public health system.”