Mitchell: Opioid Lawsuit Should Be More Than ‘Political Headline’
NEW BEDFORD — While City Councillor-at-Large Brian Gomes is pushing for New Bedford to join other communities across the state and the country in suing pharmaceutical companies for the costs of battling the opioid epidemic, Mayor Jon Mitchell said it might not make financial sense to try to recoup those costs through a lawsuit.
Gomes is filing a motion Thursday night with the City Council to ask Mitchell and City Solicitor Mikaela McDermott to begin the process of filing a lawsuit, as Fall River has already done.
In his weekly appearance on WBSM, however, Mitchell said they've already been looking into the matter, and aren't going to be pushed into filing suit by a motion by the City Council.
"There are lots of questions to be asked. I'm not going to just do this," Mitchell said. "I directed my Solicitor's Office months ago to look at this, and we'll make a decision ultimately based on whether it makes sense for the city, and not just to grab a good political headline."
Mitchell said the Solicitor's Office has been looking into the possibility of filing suite for the past "three or four months."
"We've talked to a number of law firms that have reached out to us and offered their services, at least four to five different law firms, trying to get a better handle on whether we get something out of it beyond just a headline," Mitchell said.
"If I thought there was an opportunity to sue and actually get something out of it, then we would," said Mitchell, a former federal prosecutor. "A lot of cities have jumped into it, and they've signed up with plaintiff's firms whose effective fees might just suck up everything they recover."
Mitchell said New Bedford doesn't want to be in a position where it is devoting a large amount of staff and resources to figuring out what the damages are that the city could claim, such as time spent by ambulance crews and fire department personnel responding to overdoses.
"Here's how it's going to play out--it's going to settle at some point, like those tobacco cases did," Mitchell said, referencing class action suits filed against cigarette manufacturers. "Most of the big class action suits end up settling, but the question is, out of that settlement, is the city going to get much money at all, considering what these plaintiff firms are suggesting for fees? The answer is probably not much, and the city will spend a lot of staff time trying to find the answers to the questions they need to know."
In addition, the mayor said the work of the Greater New Bedford Opioid Task Force has already helped with bringing down the number of overdose deaths in the city.
"We're making progress," Mitchell said. "Last year, there was a 19 percent drop in overdoses in the city, and that's really encouraging. But there's more we can do, and we're going to keep at it."