Danvers plans to join as many 70 other Massachusetts communities in a national lawsuit aimed at drug companies and distributors for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic.
Selectmen voted Tuesday night to move forward on joining the national effort, subject to further research by town council into details of the fee agreement.
The decision came after the second of two discussions had by officials at recent Board of Selectmen meetings. On Tuesday, Town Council David Deluca told the board he was supportive of the litigation.
“I do believe it’s a reasonable proposition for the town to engage in,” he said.
The lawsuit claims the underlying cause of the opioid crisis is a result of opioid manufacturers’ and distributors’ false studies, intense marketing and misleading advertising, according to Johnathan Silverstein of KP Law, who presented the case to the board during a March meeting.
The lawsuit, one called a multidistrict litigation, aims to help communities recover some of the expenses tied to the opioid crisis. A consortium of lawyers are filing individual lawsuits on behalf of each municipality.
“I think on the ground here in Danvers and in communities across the state, you see the impact of this crisis every day in public safety responses, [and] unfortunately, deaths and overdoses,” Silverstein said.
Danvers saw 25 opioid-related deaths between 2012 and 2016, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Attorney DeLuca said there is “every expectation that the litigation will be successful,” but he still had some questions about the fee agreement.
He explained the litigation is operating under a contingency agreement, meaning there would be no attorney’s fees unless there is a recovery.
“I’m still questioning the Attorney’s Office on the nature of that recovery,” he said. “If, for example, there is a recovery that is something other than a monetary recovery, how [will] the attorney’s fees be compensated?”
DeLuca said he would resolve his understanding of the fee agreement in the next week or so, and report back to the board with an agreement he could support.
Still, he, like Silverstein, said there would be no cost to the town.
He told the board, however, there would be costs in the form of time and effort. In the case of a recovery, the town will need to produce records and information that could be used for calculating damages.
Overall, selectmen, who voted 4-0 with Chairman David Mills absent, said they were supportive of joining the litigation.
“I want to into this with caution,” selectmen Dan Bennett said. “Like any unknown, there are some factors that could affect the outcome, but I think it’s probably worthwhile to go forward rather than to not get involved.”
His main concern was how the settlement would ultimately be used — would it be used to benefit people suffering from addiction?
Selectmen Bill Clark and Gardner Trask had similar concerns.
“This is not a budget builder,” Trask said. “This is to get the funds to the appropriate people… whether it’s making sure the people are trained to respond, they got the right equipment, [or] the right resources, including Narcan and other supplies they need.”
Town Manager Steve Bartha said while there’s the possibility a judge may offer guidance for how the funds are used, they will also likely be subject to appropriation through Town Meeting.