SHIRLEY -- The Selectmen on Monday night agreed to join 80 other municipalities across the Commonwealth in a Federal lawsuit versus three major pharmaceutical firms that seeks damages related to the opioid epidemic, including the cost of increased medical and emergency services and the drug Narcan, administered to reverse the effects of an overdose that could otherwise be fatal.
According to Town Counsel Lauren Goldberg, who came in to explain the suit at the board's request, the communities won't be charged for participating in the suit and the law firms filing it will recoup their expenses only if it's successful, taking a percentage of the settlement. There's no charge if it fails.
Signing on is a no-cost move that sends the right message, in the board's view. And in a best case scenario, the town gets some money to help pay for past expenses as well as future costs tied to the opioid epidemic, including resources and educational programs.
Goldberg's firm, KP Law, provides legal services to Shirley and other municipalities and is among the group of attorneys and law firms filing the suit, which basically paints its targets as drug pushers.
Goldberg said the suit pins the blame where it belongs: on the companies that manufacture these drugs in vast quantities and reap huge profits from their sales.
The lawsuit claims that these companies' stepped-up efforts to market addictive "opioid" drugs such as Oxycontin caused the nationwide opioid epidemic in the first place.
Statistics show how widespread the problem is. The epidemic has touched virtually every community in some way, some worse than others. In Shirley, more than one resident has died of an overdose in recent years, including the 24-year-old son of Selectman Debra Flagg.
It all began with the companies named in the lawsuit, Goldberg said.
"We know these names," she said. "These three distributors -- all Fortune-500 companies -- are responsible for 85 percent of it."
"It" being the proliferation of addictive drugs like Oxycontin, once used only as a last resort for severe pain or for end-of-life, palliative care. Today, due to the manufacturers' actions, opioids are routinely prescribed by doctors and parceled out at pharmacies, legally, for everything from dental surgery to sports injuries. Some patients become addicted and turn to heroin when the legal drug supply runs out, Goldberg said.
She made a compelling case, adding that whistle blowers and experts who have appeared on the TV news program 60-Minutes would testify in this case. "They are witnesses for us," she said. For a long time, their voices were not heard, Goldberg said. Now, drug companies will have to change their tactics, which is the overarching point of the lawsuit.
But what about the doctors who prescribe the drugs and the pharmacies that hand them out?
"Doctors who prescribe opioids in a dangerous way" and drug store "pill mills" can lose their licenses, Goldberg said. "But we're going after the source."