By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County is considering joining in legal action against drug manufacturers and distributors for their role in the opioid epidemic.
“This is something we should be looking at. It’s a serious issue,” Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois told Belknap County Commissioners on Thursday.
His comments came after a presentation by Atty. Robert J. Bonsignore of the Bonsignore & Brewer law firm of Medford, Massachusetts, which specializes in complex litigation nationwide, about lawsuits being filed across the country against drug manufacturers.
Bonsignore, who owns a home in Belmont, said the opioid epidemic is a national crisis that was artificially created by drug manufacturers and distributors through false and deceptive marketing to doctors and the public.They claimed that the drugs they distribute are safe and effective for the daily treatment of long-term chronic pain..
Bonsignore said the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 75 percent of people who enter treatment for a heroin addiction took their first opioid legally from a prescription.
He said that, under the terms of federal law, wholesale distributors are required to maintain
effective controls against diversion of prescription opiates into other than legitimate medical, scientific, and industrial channels. Federal law also imposes a duty upon the distributors to “design and operate a system to disclose to the registrant suspicious orders of controlled substances. The registrant shall inform the Field Division Office of the Administration in his area of suspicious orders when discovered by the registrant. Suspicious orders include orders of unusual size, orders deviating
substantially from a normal pattern, and orders of unusual frequency.”
He said that means the companies are required to know “where every pill went and where they were distributed” and that the information, which should have set off a red flag, has been ignored.
He cited the case of a West Virginia town of only 800 residents where millions of pills were sent as an example of the failure of the industry’s self-regulation efforts.
“The taxpayers should not be liable for the cost of treatment. This is a case where people with no morals and no scruples were driven by the desire for profit to take advantage of people,” said Bonsignore.
He said addicts who can’t get prescription painkillers typically resort to illegal drugs, including heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil. The latter two are at least 50 times stronger than heroin and can kill users within seconds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, each day, 91 Americans die from overdosing on opioids.
Bonsignore urged Belknap County to join the nearly 100 states, counties, cities and towns that already have filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers. He said the filings are known as Mass Tort, which involves similar cases in multiple jurisdictions, rather than a class-action suit.
All of the actions are being consolidated in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio.
Bonsignore urged the county to file its case in U.S. District Court in Concord, rather than in a state court.
Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor, who also is an attorney, said that reports of some of the abuses by drug companies and distributors are “pretty outrageous” and urged the commission to consult with the county attorney on what course of action the Belknap County should take.
Livernois said the issue “is already on my radar screen,” as he has been contacted by another law firm about joining in a lawsuit on the same issue.
He said he would meet with Bonsignore and the other law firm and develop a recommendation for the commission on what action it should take.