Bucks County Town Asks Big Pharma to Foot Addiction Bill

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A Bucks County community hopes to recover some of the resources it has lost fighting the opioid epidemic by suing the makers of those pills.

Bensalem Township intends to bring claims against several drug companies and their subsidiaries, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals.

“It breaks my heart, personally, and I know it’s breaking a lot of other hearts,” Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo said. “We have to get on top of this situation.”

Bensalem will be the first municipality in Pennsylvania to pursue this kind of large-scale litigation. Similar efforts have already been waged in New Hampshire and Ohio.

“These drug companies misrepresented the dangers of these opiates not only to the public but to the doctors,” State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo said. “They had a misleading advertising campaign saying these things were safe.”

He witnessed the effects of addiction firsthand after his son battled with addiction for several years. Like so many others, DiGirolamo’s son began the path to addiction with painkillers.

“It’s just devastating,” he said. “It’s the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning and it’s the last thing you think about when you go to bed at night.”

In addition to the personal toll, the financial expense is becoming too great, officials said. Tens of millions of dollars that should have gone towards public safety in Bensalem Township has instead been used to fight addiction and related crime. Since 2006, there has been a 96 percent increase in drug-related calls. Emergency personnel have already spent $1.58 million since 2014 responding to those calls.

“Many of us have friends and family who are impacted,” Thomas Topley, a 30-year EMT, said. “Sometimes we’re at a house six, seven, eight times. What about the guy down the street having a heart attack?”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro signaled he will also be joining the fight against certain pharmaceutical companies. He announced a “meaningful investigation into the manufacture, marketing and distribution” of opioids that will involve more than 40 state attorney generals.

“This is a big fight and it takes the chief law enforcement officers of states around the country working together to win it,” he said in a statement.

NBC10 reached out to several companies targeted by Bensalem officials. Purdue, Teva and Janssen each denied any wrongdoing. Johnson & Johnson and Cephalon did not respond.

“We recognize opioid abuse is a serious public health issue that must be addressed. At the same time, we firmly believe the allegations in these lawsuits are both legally and factually unfounded,” a spokesman for Janssen said, adding that the company has “acted responsibility and in the best interests of patients and physicians.”

“We share Bensalem Township officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions,” a spokesperson for Purdue said.

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