WARWICK, RI — Lt. Governor Dan McKee joined Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and the mayors of five other Rhode Island communities during a Monday press conference to announce a pending lawsuit against five pharmaceutical manufacturers and three pharmaceutical distributors they say helped cause the national opioid addiction crisis.
Joining McKee and Avedisian were Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, Cumberland Mayor William Murray and Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena. In all, fourteen communities will join the suit against the companies.
The manufacturers to be named in the suit are Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Activis and Watson Pharmaceuticals.
The distributors to be named in the suit are McKesson , Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation.
McKee said the manufacturing companies pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction, while the distributors breached their legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids.
Those duties were established by the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which requires the companies to monitor, identify and report suspicious activity in the size and frequency of opioid shipments to pharmacies and hospitals.
In Rhode Island, which has the seventh highest opioid overdose death rate in the US at 30.8 percent with 326 deaths in 2016.
“In the last three years alone, 80 residents in my community lost their lives to overdoses. That’s 80 of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. It’s heartbreaking and it’s unacceptable,” said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. “As Mayor, it’s my job to fight for the safety of every citizen.”
Avedisian said he has created a five member committee chaired by Police Chief Colonel Stephen McCartney and my Chief of Staff Raymond Studley, the retired Lt. Colonel of the Rhode Island State Police; Captain Joseph Hopkins of the Warwick Police Department; Councilwoman Donna Travis, who has been a long time leader of Warwick’s Substance Abuse Task Force; and Patricia Seltzer, Warwick’s community wellness nurse, he said.
“This diverse group of people brings knowledge from a variety of backgrounds, all of which have directly dealt with this crisis. I am confident that any funding we are able to obtain will be used wisely to help treatment and prevention of opioid misuse.”
Avedisian also made suggestions for potential activities that he hopes the committee would consider using funding derived from any settlement of the lawsuit. “The purchase of Narcan for use by members of Warwick’s police and fire departments, continuing the strong working relationship between the City’s police department and the mental health outreach work of the Providence Center. Also, the continuation of the pilot Vivitrol program that the Kent Re-entry Council operates with the Department of Corrections and the Adult Correctional Institution, as well as the programs that Captain Hopkins and the Opioid Task Force have identified as priorities,” he continued.
Agencies like Bridgemark Addiction Recovery Services, Westbay Community Action, Comprehensive Community Action, Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, Kent Center, and others have long been part of the social service community response in Warwick. Avedisian said he wants to continue to find and fund projects that will help eliminate both the use and stigma associated with opioid use and recovery efforts.