April 23, 2018
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Bangor could join lawsuit against prescription opioid manufacturers

George Frey | REUTERS
George Frey | REUTERS
A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin pills made by Purdue Pharma at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, April 25, 2017.
By Alex Acquisto, BDN Staff

Bangor is considering joining the ranks of dozens of other cities and states across the country in a national lawsuit against manufacturers of prescription opioids.

Plagued by an epidemic that, on average, killed more than one person in Maine each day last year, city officials have said they want to join the fight against pharmaceutical companies that have been accused of negligent marketing and reckless distribution of prescription painkillers.

“We’re just getting started on a long journey,” Norm Heitman, Bangor’s city solicitor, said of the lawsuit.

In the meantime, city and police officials will work to monetize the toll that the opioid epidemic has had on the city, which will help inform how much in damages the city should receive, he said.

[Analysis: How the maker of Oxycontin helped spark the opioid epidemic]

The Bangor City Council met in executive session with attorney Adam Lee, of the law firm Trafton, Matzen, Belleau and Frenette, last Monday to discuss the logistics of joining the lawsuit, Heitman said.

The Auburn-based law firm is working with the lead firm in the case, New York-based Napoli Shkolnik, which has filed similar suits on behalf of municipalities in cases against Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma.

For this particular lawsuit, Napoli Shkolnik is representing at least 70 municipalities and counties in states that include New Hampshire, Kentucky, Florida and New Mexico, said Joseph Ciaccio, a senior associate at the firm.

Signing on to the lawsuit would come at no initial cost to the city, Heitman said. If the case is won in court, the city would recoup a portion of the damages and then likely a quarter of the money would go to lawyer fees, he said.

Overdoses killed 376 Mainers in 2016, and by June of this year, 185 overdose deaths had been reported. The American Society of Addiction Medicine estimates that 75 percent of new heroin users are introduced to the drug by first using prescription opioids.

[Portland set to join nationwide lawsuit against opioid manufacturers]

The Portland City Council voted unanimously to prosecute civil claims and join the nationwide lawsuit against makers of prescription painkillers in October, with the help of the same law firms. Waterville and Lewiston are also taking take part in the lawsuit.

The Bangor City Council will vote on the measure at its next meeting on Dec. 27.

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