Brick Township’s lawsuit against 36 drug companies that produced opiate painkillers has been filed in U.S. district court, officials said this week. The suit alleges that the companies did not properly notify patients of addiction risk, ultimately leading many to turn to heroin abuse once they could no longer legally obtain prescriptions.
Specifically, the township is seeking monetary damages, “abatement of the public nuisance caused by defendants” and an injunction permanently prohibiting the companies from engaging in the acts the lawsuit claims fueled the opioid crisis. The action has been filed on the township’s behalf by the South Carolina-based law firm of Motley Rice, LLC. Under the terms of the agreement, the law firm will not receive any payment from the township, but will instead receive a percentage of any recovery from the drug manufacturers.
“Countless lives in our community and across the nation have been destroyed by the opioid crisis and these companies share a significant amount of blame in helping create that crisis,” said Mayor John Ducey. “This lawsuit aims to hold them responsible for their role in this crisis and to hold them accountable for the effect that the crisis has had on lives and the financial burden the crisis has placed on our community.”
The lawsuit alleges that the 36 defendants violated numerous laws, including the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, and in doing so, through their actions, led to a public health nuisance. The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers “knowingly misrepresented the risk of addiction to doctors and patients, misrepresented the effectiveness and safety of opioids and misrepresented their efforts to rein in opioid abuse among other actions.”
Brick Township saw itself garner negative publicity as the opiate addiction epidemic began to grow in New Jersey over the last several years. Brick has consistently ranked high in the number of overdoses and hospital admissions for addiction. In response, the township teamed with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office to implement the Blue HART Program, which allows addicts and substance abusers who want help to present themselves at those police departments where they will be transported to a treatment evaluation without any threat of charges or incarceration. The program is also available, in some cases, to people taken into custody by police for possession of the drug. In addition, the Brick Township Police Department set up a drug enforcement unit to pursue drug dealers and a community policing unit educates children about the dangers of opioid use. These efforts have resulted in a reduction of heroin overdoses by over 33 percent since 2016, township officials said.
The township is seeking an award from the court to “abate the public nuisance, recoup the funds that have been spent by the township fighting the opioid crisis including the costs for prevention programs and staffing them and for any monetary damages deemed just by the court,” officials said this week.
Lawsuits against opioid manufacturers have seen mixed success. Recently, a $10 billion settlement forced Perdue Pharma to seek bankruptcy protection, while a separate lawsuit filed by a number of states resulted in a successful motion by Walgreens to dismiss litigation. The states this week were blocked by a federal judge in Delaware from being able to reargue their case.