Mayor Martin Walsh isn’t too concerned if Big Pharma wants to be his friend.
In fact, he said, they probably aren’t going to like him much in the coming months as the City pursues litigation against them for the opioid epidemic, but in words that spared no love-loss for the makers of opioid pills, he blamed them for the bulk of the opioid epidemic that plays out most prominently in the South End.
“When I was a state rep I met with Purdue Pharma and I told them they were hurting people,” he said at the press conference. “They left my office disturbed and upset. I don’t feel bad for the CEOs of these companies…They are not understanding the problems that are happening on the streets. If they do, they’re ignoring it. This sends them a message…We don’t appreciate them taking advantage of a whole bunch of people using their drugs so they can get rich…We’re going to make them pay and change the culture of their companies.”
Mayor Martin Walsh appeared in front of the Woods-Mullen Shelter in the Mass/Cass area on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 13 – at ground zero for the opioid epidemic – to announce the City is bringing suit against 13 opioid manufacturers, four pharmaceutical distributors and one local doctor that the City believes has contributed to the local opioid epidemic through misleading marketing and reckless dissemination of opioids that has led to the deaths of more than 723 Boston residents since 2013. As part of the litigation, the City is seeking to recover both past and future damages and injunctive relief associated with addressing the opioid epidemic in Boston.
The suit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court last Thursday, and is wholly separate from efforts being made by Attorney General Maura Healy, as well as a federal case in Cleveland that municipalities across the country have signed on to.
“Boston has reached a breaking point in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said Mayor Walsh. “We have a public health crisis on our hands that has steadily gotten worse in recent years and even though we have been increasing access to critical treatments and supports, we can’t fight this alone. It’s time to hold accountable the companies that created and fostered this crisis and pursue remedies to stop its harmful marketing tactics.”
The litigation focuses on several pharmaceutical companies that Walsh says irresponsibly saturated the market with opioids, knowingly putting consumers at risk for addiction. The defendants manufacture, market, and sell prescription opioid pain medications, including the brand-name drugs OxyContin and Percocet, and generic drugs such as oxycodone.
In addition, the suit alleges opioid drugs have been marketed in a misleading, deceptive and dangerous way, which helped give rise to the opioid epidemic in the City of Boston and throughout the country. Between 2010 and 2016, an average of 457 mg of oxycodone were dispersed per Boston resident, which is double the state average and nearly three times over the national average.
Jared Owen, who works for the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR) said his first experience with opioids was when he was 14 and dropped a dumbbell on his toe. From there, he said he lived with that feeling in the back of his head. While studying at MIT, the drug addiction took hold of him until he was on the streets and had turned to heroin.
“I firmly believe there are men now sitting in corner offices at these companies that have more blood on their hands for this crisis than any drug dealer on the streets in Massachusetts,” he said. “They need to be held accountable and that’s what this is doing.”
The City asserts that the increased dissemination of opioids correlates directly to skyrocketing addiction, overdose and death; black markets for diverted prescriptions opioids; and an accompanying rise in heroin and fentanyl abuse by individuals who could no longer legally acquire or afford prescription opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified addiction to prescription pain medication as the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction.
“The opioid epidemic has inflicted unprecedented suffering on the people of Boston,” said Michael Botticelli, executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine. “Boston Medical Center sees its impact on a daily basis in the people brought to our emergency room, inpatient beds, and those seeking treatment services. The Grayken Center is proud to support the Mayor in his efforts to bring this suffering to an end and to show our support for his actions today to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for their role in creating this epidemic.”
The City is seeking relief to recover approximately $64 million spent to combat the opioid epidemic, plus the necessary funds to abate the crisis, in addition to future damages the City will incur as the epidemic progresses. Almost all City departments have been impacted, including the Boston Fire Department, Boston Police Department, Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Emergency Medical Services, Boston Public Library, Boston Parks and Recreation Department, Inspectional Services Department, Property Management, and Boston Public Schools.
The City has retained Motley Rice to represent them in the matter.
The companies sued include Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, among others.
The local doctor is Dr. Fathallah Mashali, 62, of New England Wellness and Pain Management, Dover, Massachusetts. Dr. Mashali was sentenced to eight years in prison last March in Boston Federal Court for healthcare fraud and money laundering.