AUGUSTA — Kennebec county commissioners voted Tuesday to sign on to a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that make and distribute opiates, a decision already made by several town, city and county governments in Maine that’s also part of a nationwide effort.

Roger Katz, an attorney with the Augusta law firm Lipman & Katz and a Republican state senator, said in a presentation to the commissioners the lawsuit alleges the companies withheld critical information about the drugs.

“There’s a pretty significant body of evidence that the manufacturers were aware of the addictive quality of the drugs,” Katz said, “and they did not disclose it.”

Katz likened this lawsuit to the suit against the four largest U.S. tobacco companies, which for years denied that nicotine was addictive and that smoking cigarettes caused cancer.

Two decades ago, those suits were settled in the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement. As part of those settlements, the companies were required to pay states for the medical costs of residents with smoking-related illnesses.

In this case, Katz said the allegations in the suit being brought by Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, of New York City, and Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette LLP, of Auburn, are that the companies suppressed the knowledge of the risks of the drugs, and public entities have suffered.

“As a result of the misrepresentations of the drug companies, many people have become addicted, many have turned to illicit drugs and many have become a burden to the county — i.e., jails — because of crimes committed to support their addictions,” he said.

In addition to dealing with medical problems that surface among inmates who have been using opioids, the county pays other costs associated with addiction.

Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said one of the county’s costs is holding the Crimonogenic Addiction & Recovery Academy at the jail. The goal of the CARA program is addressing inmates’ substance abuse and criminal thinking patterns.

While the county receives a subsidy from the state of Maine, Kennebec County government funds the balance of the program’s cost, he said.

Costs are also tallied at the county’s Probate Court.

Register of Probate Kathleen Ayers said the county pays for indigent legal fees and for guardians ad litem, a person appointed by the court to advocate for a child’s best interests in certain cases.

“There are a lot of kids who have lost a parent,” Ayers said.

In his presentation to the commissioners, Katz said Kennebec County government would bear no cost for taking part, and forensic experts would be brought in to assess the actual costs of opioid addiction to Kennebec County.

Katz said the lawsuit would be filed in state court.

“We hope the judge would find the companies liable and assess damages,” Katz said.

In December, the Waterville City Council voted to authorize city officials to engage the services of Napoli Shkolnik, and Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette, of Auburn, for prosecuting legal claims against manufacturers and distributors of opioids arising out of the manufacturers’ and distributors’ fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of the drugs.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said Tuesday that Augusta elected officials also are considering joining the lawsuit.

“I am expecting it to come up within the next couple of weeks,” Bridgeo said. “As part of our consideration, the mayor has asked a couple of councilors who are attorneys to look over the engagement letter, and we’re still in that part of the process.”

Auburn, Bangor, Biddeford, Lewiston and Portland are among the Maine cities that have agreed to be part of the lawsuit so far. Katz said most other counties also have signed on.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.