Town takes steps in opioid lawsuit

Jun 7, 2021

The Town of Dartmouth has contracted the help of a national law firm in its lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and distributors for their roles in the opioid crisis, joining numerous communities in the commonwealth in the ongoing litigation.

At a June 7 Select Board meeting, officials signed a contract with Motley Rice LLC — one of the country’s largest firms pursuing wrongdoing and negligence — to represent the town. According to the firm’s website, Motley Rice is the co-lead counsel for more than 2,700 communities in opioid litigation, including Braintree and Quincy.

Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes previously said that there will be no cost to the town to participate in the class action lawsuit.

Town Counsel Anthony Savastano said that with the contract, “it’s a good opportunity for the town to participate in this litigation because of the potential windfall for the town.”

He added that there is also potential for additional money through a separate suit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. But the town counsel said that would all be dependent on what the AG’s litigation involves.

“My guess is that will end up with more money for the state and not the local municipalities,” Savastano said. “At the end of the day, Motley Rice gave us the best opportunity for a recovery — I’m happy with this agreement.”

A number of other communities around the country and across the South Coast have joined similar suits, including Fairhaven in 2018 and New Bedford in 2019.

Bristol County has been one of the hardest-hit areas in a state that has an opioid death rate around twice that of the national average.

In 2018, Dartmouth saw 64 overdoses, including four deaths.

Just one year later, that number jumped to six deaths out of 73 overdoses taking place within the town limits.

State data shows 10 Dartmouth residents died from opioid-related overdoses in Massachusetts overall.

And although the number of confirmed overdose deaths in the state in 2019 was down 0.4% from the year before, preliminary data from 2020 shows an uptick during the pandemic.