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Mass. cities and towns sue McKinsey despite settlement

More than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns sued McKinsey & Company in federal court for the company’s role in fueling the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit, filed on Sunday, is the latest in a series of legal actions taken by local governments following a settlement deal reached between the company and attorneys general across the country.

In that 2021 deal, McKinsey agreed to pay $573 million to nearly every U.S. state and five U.S. territories. Of that, $13 million was slated for Massachusetts.

But a key issue for the 124 Massachusetts municipalities behind the Jan. 9 lawsuit is whether the settlement accounts for all the damage caused at the local level, said Peter Merrigan of Sweeney Merrigan Law, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the suit.

“The harm caused by opioids has been disproportionately affecting our small communities and big cities,” Merrigan said. "This is a backyard problem.”

Merrigan said he and others are in talks with the state attorney general’s office about how the settlement money will be distributed between the commonwealth and local governments. Nevertheless, in this case local communities should be looked at as separate entities from the state, he said.

“The real unique story here is that public health crises are often addressed at the executive or legislative level … But here we have the judiciary addressing a public health crisis,” he said.

Several investigations led by attorneys general found that McKinsey contributed to the crisis by assisting some of the biggest distributors and manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, in marketing the highly-addictive opioid, OxyContin, despite knowing of its harms.

There are dozens of examples, from New York to Wisconsin, in recent months of cities, counties and tribes banding together to file suits against McKinsey.

Last year, in response to these lawsuits, McKinsey’s lawyers said claims by local governments were accounted for in the $573 million settlement, according to a Reuters report.

On Jan. 3, 11 states backed McKinsey’s claim when they wrote in a brief that local governments could not separately sue the company in an already-settled case.

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Vanessa Ochavillo Twitter Newsroom Fellow
Vanessa Ochavillo is a WBUR newsroom fellow.

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