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Judge allows court case from Orleans, other counties to go forward against pharmaceutical companies

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 June 2018 at 9:28 am

A court case from Orleans and other counties can go forward after a ruling on Monday by a state Supreme Court judge in Suffolk County.

Six pharmaceutical companies sought to dismiss lawsuits by several counties who say the drug manufacturers fueled an opioid crisis through misleading marketing campaigns that minimized the addiction risks of opioids.

Jerry Garguilo, the judge in Suffolk County, rejected arguments by OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP and other companies who said the counties’ complaints were insufficiently alleged, time-barred or pre-empted by federal law.

The New York Association of Counties issued a statement on behalf of the counties on Monday.

“Today’s decision validates the efforts of the New York counties that there are triable issues of fact which should proceed before the State Supreme Court,” said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director and general counsel to the New York State Association of Counties. “It’s a very important milestone in this ongoing national and state litigation with far-reaching consequences that are felt in our counties every day. The effects of opioid addiction and destruction are pervasive, and today’s decision marks an important turning point.”

In addition to the New York counties’ pending action in New York State Supreme Court in Suffolk County, there are hundreds of state and local government cases filed in federal court, consolidated in the Northern District of Ohio.

The Orleans County Legislature on Sept. 27 voted to join the lawsuit against pharmaceuticals for allegedly fueling the opioid crisis.

The Legislature voted to retain 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 then.

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. In 2014, there were 28,647 opioid overdose deaths nationwide, a 14 percent increase from the previous year.

In 2014, the heroin overdose deaths in New York reached 825, a jump of 23 percent from the previous year and 25 times the number a decade earlier, according to a resolution from the County Legislature in September.

Orleans and other municipalities in the lawsuit are seeking to recover damages that have contributed “to high costs to the taxpayers in the form of increased social services, policing, and other expenditures,” according to the county resolution.

Pharmaceutical companies have denied misleading the public about the addictive nature of painkillers, such as Oxycontin. The prescription painkillers are FDA approved and include warnings on the product label about possible risks, the companies have said.

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