County declares opioid epidemic a ‘public nuisance’ to help recover costs to taxpayers

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 March 2018 at 1:47 pm

‘This crisis has devastated families, wreaked havoc on our economy, and produced a generation of narcotic dependence.’ – Orleans County Legislature

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature has declared the opioid epidemic a “public nuisance,” which legislators say is a first step in allowing the county to recoup costs to taxpayers in responding the crisis.

Many governments have declared the opioid epidemic a public nuisance, which is part of a litigation strategy to recoup the costs for providing services due the crisis, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer.

The epidemic has hit the county, with 43 overdoses last year, including eight fatalities.

The county normally wouldn’t be able to recoup costs for providing services, such as with a police chase. However, by declaring a “public nuisance,” the county intends to recover some of its costs.

“As a result of the opioid epidemic, costs related to healthcare, family and social services, criminal justice, addiction and rehabilitation, and many other areas significantly increased,” according to a resolution from the Legislature.

The County Legislature in September also voted to join a growing number of municipalities in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for allegedly fueling an opioid crisis.

The Legislature retained Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, a Manhattan firm, in the lawsuit. The firm is paying any upfront costs for staffing and retaining expert witnesses, County Attorney David Schubel said.

The counties are contending the pharmaceutical manufacturers knew that opioids were effective for short-term or trauma-related pain, as well as palliative (end-of-life) care. However, the manufacturers also knew for years that opioids were addictive and subject to abuse, especially when used for more than three months.

The lawsuit contends that prescription painkillers, as well as heroin abuse, are the prime causes for an increase in overdose deaths.

“Vast amounts of prescription opioids were sold, distributed, and prescribed in the County over the past several years, a practice that continues today,” the Legislature stated in a resolution. “The selling, distributing, and prescribing of large amounts of opioids in our community has created a public health and safety hazard affecting the residents of the County. This crisis has devastated families, wreaked havoc on our economy, and produced a generation of narcotic dependence.”

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