The City of Burlington has enrolled in a federal class-action lawsuit intended to hold drug manufacturers and distributors accountable for their role in the nationwide opioid crisis.
Burlington joins St. Albans, Bennington and more than 2,500 cities, counties and Native American tribes in the “multi-district lawsuit” that will be heard in U.S. District Court in Ohio. By taking no formal action Monday night, the Burlington City Council automatically enrolled the city in the suit against 13 defendants, including Purdue Pharma, Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation, Cephalon, CVS, Rite Aid and others.
“This is unlike any previous mass tort litigation," Burlington City Attorney Eileen Blackwood wrote in a memo to the council. "Individual cities, town[s], and counties across the country are pursuing claims against the same major defendants to recover money to help fight the epidemic and fund prevention and treatment programs."
All U.S. municipalities will join the class unless they opt out by November 22, according to Blackwood’s memo. The effort is distinct from the State of Vermont’s lawsuits against drug distributorsMcKesson and Cardinal Health, and drug manufacturer Purdue and its founders, the Sackler family. Those suits allege that distributors normalized the overprescribing of addictive painkillers and that OxyContin maker Purdue used deceptive advertisements to market the opiates while the Sacklers made a fortune.
Earlier this month, Attorney General T.J. Donovan wrote a letter to the Vermont League of Cities & Towns, urging the advocacy group to encourage its member municipalities to join the negotiation class. Vermont has spent “precious, limited resources” on medical treatment, mental health care and emergency services for people addicted to opiates, Donovan wrote.
“The harm to our communities has been staggering,” he wrote. “The opioid crisis has caused a devastating loss of life in Vermont. Families have been torn apart, and many lives left in ruin.”
As a class member, Burlington will be able to vote on any proposed settlement. The city could receive nearly $167,000, according to an allocation model that uses a hypothetical $1 billion gross settlement. Of the total settlement, 15 percent would funnel into a “special needs fund,” to which municipalities could apply for more money or to cover litigation costs.
Another 10 percent would go into a “private attorneys fund” that would help municipalities pay lawyers they'd hired for individual lawsuits.