Royalton weighs joining nationwide opioid suit

By Ben Canellys, The Town Beat

The Town of Royalton is considering joining a class action lawsuit against makers, distributors, and retailers of opioids.

Town clerk Karmen Bascom learned in September that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio had certified two Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claims and two Controlled Substances Act (CSA) claims against 13 defendants who “make, distribute, or sell opioids,” including Purdue Pharma, Rite-Aid, and Wal-Mart.

The first claim under RICO—typically used to prosecute organized crime—alleges that five defendants misled physicians and the public about the addictiveness of prescription opioids in an effort to increase sales.

The second RICO claim alleges that eight defendants failed to report and halt suspicious opioid sales in order to artificially sustain and increase federally set quotas.

The two remaining claims allege that the defendants failed to create systems to identify, suspend, and report unlawful opioid sales under required under the CSA.

Selectboard Chair Sandy Conrad, Town Administrator Rose Hemond, Police Chief Loretta Stalnaker, and Constable Marc Preston met with Deputy Attorney General Joshua Diamond on Oct. 11 to seek the state’s input.

Vermont is currently suing pharmaceutical companies Cardinal Health, Inc. and McKeeson Corp. for violations of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act, negligence, and creating a public nuisance.

Upon receiving questions from Royalton and other municipalities, Diamond told the Selectboard that he intends to release a letter explaining the issues and outlining the state’s position. However, the municipalities are free to do as they see fit.

The Selectboard is split on the question. Conrad seeks to move forward with the suit, citing, among other concerns, the damages the town could receive if the suit is successful.

Royalton would receive an estimated $3,106 out of a $181,816 payout to Windsor County. By joining the class action, the Selectboard would control the allocation of those funds. Conversely, if the State is successful in its suit, the Legislature would have final say.

Vice Chair Tim Dreisbach urged caution until the Attorney General’s office provides more guidance and answers additional questions for the town. The Selectboard tabled discussion on the matter in anticipation of Diamond’s letter.

Contact Ben Canellys, BenjaminCanellys@vermontlaw.edu, with tips.

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