Orleans joins lawsuit against pharmaceuticals for fueling opioid crisis
ALBION – Orleans County is joining a growing number of municipalities in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for allegedly fueling an opioid crisis.
The Orleans County Legislature on Wednesday 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.
He said about 40 counties have already joined the lawsuit, including Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Suffolk, Nassau and the State of Ohio. The cases in New York will handled in a uniform effort in Suffolk County, 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. 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 on Wednesday.
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.
Schubel said the law firm will bear the costs of the lawsuit and stands to receive 7.5 to 25 percent of any funds paid by the pharmaceutical companies.
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.