N.H. Lawsuits Are Piling Up Against Opioid Manufacturers. Here's What You Need to Know.

Jun 4, 2018

Over the past few months, more than a dozen New Hampshire towns, cities and counties have filed lawsuits against major drug makers, accusing the companies of ignoring signs that their products were fueling an epidemic of addiction.

The lawsuits represent the latest turn in a story that has hit New Hampshire harder than much of the rest of the country. Here’s an overview of where things stand, and where they may be headed.

Who’s suing who?

So far, plaintiffs include the cities of Manchester, Nashua, Keene, Concord, Laconia, Franklin, and Dover; the town of Londonderry; and Grafton, Merrimack, Cheshire, Belknap and Strafford Counties. That list is expected to grow, as dozens more communities will be considering the issue over the coming months. Carroll County is the only community in New Hampshire to choose not to sue. 

The lawsuits in New Hampshire mirror hundreds of others filed across the country.

Defendants include the biggest international opioid manufacturers: Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and others.

A number of different law firms are handling these cases, but the complaints are similar across the board. So far, hundreds have been consolidated for review by a federal judge in Ohio.

What are the charges?

Plaintiffs argue the pharmaceutical companies, driven by a desire for profit, marketed opioids aggressively despite knowing how addictive the drugs can be. They contend this ultimately fueled the current crisis.

Click here to see the full text of Nashua’s lawsuit, similar to others that have been filed.

What do these communities stand to gain?

They are seeking damages for the costs associated with combating the epidemic at the local level. These costs vary from community to community, but often include emergency medical services, policing, shelters, and drug and addiction counseling. If a financial settlement is reached, communities that have filed suit will likely receive some portion of a payout from the drug companies, with the law firms handling the cases taking a cut as well.

It’s unclear how likely a settlement is, however, or whether it would make any lasting dent in the true cost of the crisis for most communities. The president’s Council of Economic Advisors has estimated the total cost of the opioid crisis in the United States to be over $500 billion in 2015 alone.

Still, communities have little to lose by signing on. "I honestly believe that every community in the state of New Hampshire should join the lawsuit," said Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon in April. "I think it makes sense for everyone to join together and try to make a difference.”

What have the drug companies said?

The companies have argued that they weren’t the only players in this, that the drugs were approved by the Federal Drug Administration and prescribed by doctors. They also point to their own efforts to stem opioid abuse. 

What’s the timeline?

Settlement talks are underway in Ohio, where the first trials are also scheduled for next spring.