The Connecticut lawsuits are part of a nationwide effort to make pharmaceutical companies pay for a portion of the damage caused by this crisis.
Judge Thomas Moukawsher in Connecticut ruled against 37 cities and towns within the state that brought lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies accused of fueling the opioid crisis in the U.S.
According to the Associated Press, the judge ruled that the lawsuits were “not allowed because they were not filed as government enforcement actions authorized by state public interest laws.”
“Their lawsuits can’t survive without proof that the people they are suing directly caused them the financial losses they seek to recoup,” Moukawsher wrote. “This puts the cities in the same position in claiming money as the brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, and co-workers of addicts who say they have also indirectly suffered losses by the opioid crisis. That is to say—under long-established law—they have no claims at all.”
Though this is a setback in the efforts of the plaintiffs to recoup the many billions of dollars spent to mitigate and combat the opioid crisis, appeals are already being considered.
The lawsuits in Connecticut are only a part of a nationwide effort to make pharmaceutical companies pay for a portion of the damage caused by this crisis. States, cities, counties and Native American tribal councils across the country are filing civil suits against some of the biggest drug manufacturers, claiming that misleading advertising and the alleged encouragement of physicians to over-prescribe opioids have fueled the epidemic of addiction and overdoses.
According to Forbes, the collective action could become “the largest civil litigation settlement agreement in U.S. history.”
The record is currently held by the settlement between 46 states and the tobacco industry—a case that some are pointing to as a precedent for the present-day opioid lawsuits. However, experts have pointed out that there are marked differences between these two cases.
Addiction to prescription opioids is often caused by misuse, whereas there is a clear link between using tobacco products as directed and illness. This makes it easier to blame addiction, overdose and other health concerns on the opioid users themselves.
“Individual plaintiffs who have sued pharmaceutical companies over how opioids have been marketed have rarely been successful, according to Richard Ausness, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law,” wrote Alana Semuels for The Atlantic in 2017. “Courts have made clear that they believe that individual victims are largely responsible for their addiction.”
However, drug makers have been successfully sued in the past, though many of the lawsuits were settled out of court for a small portion of company profits. Purdue and others have continued to deny any allegations of deceptive marketing or other roles in the opioid crisis.
Purdue Pharma released a statement about Judge Moukawsher’s ruling, praising him for “applying the law” and vowing to “help address this public health challenge.”