MIDDLEBORO — Jonathan Silverstein, attorney for KP Law, claims it makes his "blood boil" that pharmaceutical manufacturers are misleading consumers.

“I don’t think there is anyone in the state who is untouched by this opioid crisis. I’m not," he said, addressing the statewide, multi-district litigation his firm is helping to bring against the nation's largest pharmaceutical producers and distributors.

Silverstein and attorney Peter Merrigan from Sweeney Merrigan Law LLP came before the Middleboro Board of Selectmen June 11 as members of a nine-firm consortium called MOLA, Massachusetts Opioid Litigation Attorneys, which has been working for the past year recruiting municipalities and filing legal motions on their behalf against the industry for alleged negligence, nefarious business practices, and violation of federal statutes which may have contributed to the country’s rising opioid addiction epidemic.

Merrigan and Silverstein came to convince the board to join the close to 100 Massachusetts cities and towns that are part of this litigation and want to hold the industry accountable. In Bristol and Plymouth counties, these towns include Lakeville, Mattapoisett, Acushnet, Somerset, Freetown, Carver, Plymouth, Seekonk, Bridgewater and East Bridgewater.

“This is a backyard epidemic. Our litigation is designed to get dollars from the groups who have caused this and put in the hands of the local municipalities who will determine how best to use it to recover and take action,” Merrigan said.

This legal action defers from past nationally organized litigation, such as against the tobacco industry, during which billions in settlement money typically goes back to the state, Merrigan said.

According to Merrigan, municipalities participate on a contingent-free basis. They don’t pay any up-front legal costs. The legal fees are determined by settlements. “If there is no recovery, then the town pays nothing," Merrigan said. If settlement is reached, cities and towns receive a minimum of 65 percent of the amount.

Each municipality files its own lawsuit in federal court through the consortium and has its own case. Though not class action, all these cases are connected and consolidated for a broader stroke. Merrigan stated the first trial is slated for March 2019.

What also separates this litigation from similar endeavors across the country is that it isn’t just going after the manufacturers, but also the distributors.

“The distributors have done their own misdeeds. They are required to report suspicious shipments to authorities. They didn’t report anything, even though millions of pills were being shipped into West Virginia,” said Silverstein, citing national headline news that the state had the highest rate of overdose-related death and prescription opioid addiction in 2016.

This story shed light on how Big Pharma markets its prescription opioids across the country, how easy it is for regular people to become addicted, and what happens when those people can no longer afford the pills or insurance won’t cover any more prescriptions, according to Silverstein.

In addition to the death and hardship the epidemic has caused to families and communities, Silverstein also brought up the toll it has taken on towns’ economies and local resources, with many accumulating massive expenses in attempts to fight the crisis and deal with its fallout. “The lawsuit doesn’t just seek recovery from what cities and towns have spent to deal with this. It’s not over. It’s a long road and you will continue to spend resources," Silverstein said.

The litigation proposed by the consortium will use regulations cited in the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 as a foundation for much of the legal proceedings. One of the requirements under the law is manufacturers and distributors, who have access to all data related to legal opioid sales to pharmacies, medical offices, and other dispensaries, must report suspicious and high-volume orders to authorities, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration. The law requires them to act as watchdogs in the distribution chain.

With allegations that the nation’s largest prescription pill distributors ignored tell-tale patterns of sales, as well as aggressively marketed them to an ever-expanding roster of medical conditions, the national consortium organizing this litigation plans on utilizing the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute to take on what Merrigan referred to as the “big three” distributors: Cardinal Health, Amerisource-Bergan and McKesson Corp.

According to Merrigan, these distributors make up 85 percent of the opioid distribution market and grossed $490 billion total last year. Merrigan said this could be “the strongest RICO case you’ve seen.”

The Select Board responded favorably to the attorneys' presentation.

“This epidemic is man-made. It has come from those who have made money off the backs of our kids. We’ve received no compensation for this. We’d be crazy not to join this,” said Selectman Allin Frawley.

Frawley additionally cited the rising costs to Middleboro and other towns across the country for supplying police and fire department officials with overdose-reversal drug Narcan, and how these same manufacturers continue to hike up prices and make money off the “antidote.”

“The personal tragedy this has brought to families has been devastating. Everyone knows someone who’s been touched by this. It seems like a win-win for our community,” said Selectman Neil Rosenthal.

Despite the positive response, the board decided to err on the side of caution and chose not to motion to join this legal effort until members receive more information and have more discussions internally and with the consortium.

“I want to vote today, but I need more information,” said Diane Stewart.

BOS Chairwoman Leilani Dalpe concurred. “The message this is sending to the manufacturers is an important thing," she said.