Rhode Island had more than 300 drug overdose deaths in 2016, and many times more responses by police and fire to overdoses that were not fatal.
The cost is unquantified, but a potential class of culprits has been identified: prescription drug manufacturers and distributors.
More than a dozen cities and towns in the Ocean State have signed on to sue drug making and shipping companies.
“What we’re suing them for is they have a federal obligation to monitor the amount of shipments of drugs they send to a community," Archie Lamb, a lawyer spearheading the suit. "They have an obligation to investigate if it looks suspicious. And they have the authority to stop shipment."
Across the country, hundreds of municipalities are engaged in similar suits.
At the announcement in North Providence of the Rhode Island suits, police chiefs from many of the cities and towns fanned across the room on either side of the podium to show their support for the effort to get drug companies to help pay for the carnage created by their opioid-based drugs.
Attorney Jim Magazine, who is also working on the suits, said his daughter became addicted to opioids, and gave birth to a bay who was born addicted.
“This epidemic has to stop. And it was because these people did it all for profit. They had a duty. They had a duty to stop it. And they didn’t because they were making so much money,” Magazine said.
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee pulled together the municipal leaders to join the lawsuits. The firms handling the work are from Florida, but have hired local counsel to shepherd the suits in Rhode Island.
The lawyers said they are putting in the work for free, expecting a portion of the proceeds if the suits are successful. The money that is won by the cities and towns will be put towards reimbursing first responders who have had to deal with overdoses, and go to centers for treating addiction.