BOSTON — More than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns have filed a federal lawsuit against the marketing firm McKinsey & Company over its alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, says the company “participated in and helped orchestrate a broad scheme to deceptively market opioids” even after Purdue Pharma’s 2017 guilty plea for misleadingly marketing its heavily addictive OxyContin drug.

“McKinsey knew of the dangers of opioids and Purdue’s prior misconduct, but nonetheless advised Purdue to improperly market and sell OxyContin, supplying granular sales and marketing strategies and remaining intimately involved throughout implementation of the strategies,” lawyers for the communities wrote in the 109-page complaint. “McKinsey’s actions resulted in a surge in sales of OxyContin and other opioids that fueled and prolonged the opioid crisis.”

At least 124 cities and towns have signed onto the lawsuit, including Newburyport, Methuen, Beverly, Amesbury, Salisbury, Swampscott and Marblehead.

The legal challenge follows a $13 million settlement between Attorney General Maura Healey and the marketing company as part of a broader national settlement over claims that they orchestrated a scheme to “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin.

Overall, McKinsey agreed to pay $573 million to settle an investigation led by Healey’s office and 46 other state attorneys general.

In a statement, the company said it had entered into agreements with the states “in order to be part of the solution to the opioid epidemic” and said it believed “that those settlements also resolve claims that may be brought by municipalities.”

“State attorneys general are the chief law enforcement officers for their states and are in charge of managing investigations and settlements such as these,” the statement reads. “Furthermore, the funds provided by these settlements will be used by the state governments to support communities throughout those states.”

But the plaintiffs say those settlements didn’t adequately cover costs to local governments from the opioid epidemic.

Those costs include providing medical care and treatment for patients suffering from opioid-related addictions, dealing with opioid overdoses and deaths and providing treatments for infants with opioid-related medical conditions, according to the lawsuit.

Massachusetts was hard hit by the opioid epidemic and scourge of addiction continues to impact the state with the latest data showing a rise in heroin and fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

There were 2,104 confirmed and suspected opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts in 2020 — a 5% rise over the previous year, according to state health data.

Public health officials attribute the uptick to a combination of social isolation, gaps in available services during the pandemic, and even fears among some people that seeking treatment would expose them to COVID-19.

More than 10,000 people have died from opioid-related overdoses in the state in the past five years, according to public health data.

Massachusetts isn’t alone in the uptick of opioid related deaths during the pandemic.

Nationally, opioid-related overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year, according U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fentanyl was involved in more than 60% of the overdose deaths last year, CDC data suggests.

In July, Healey’s office agreed to a multi-billion dollar settlement with Purdue Pharma over its role in the opioid addiction crisis.

Under the deal involving 14 other states, the company will be sold off by 2024 and its owners, the Sackler family, would be banned from selling opioids.

The Sacklers are also required to pay $4.3 billion for opioid treatment and prevention in exchange for states dropping their opposition to the company’s bankruptcy.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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