Exclusive: New York counties suing pharmaceutical companies over opioid epidemic

Kristin Thorne Image
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
NY counties sue pharma companies over opioid epidemic
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Kristin Thorne reports on a massive lawsuit targeting pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic

CENTRAL ISLIP, Long Island (WABC) -- One of the largest coordinated lawsuits in the country against pharmaceutical companies in relation to the opioid crisis began Wednesday on Long Island.

Representatives from 19 pharmaceutical companies and nine counties across New York state met with a Supreme Court judge in Central Islip to discuss the schedule for the proceedings.

Eyewitness News was the only media outlet in court.

"Today was really the first day the counties were able to unite, to come together to fight the epidemic against the manufacturers," attorney Paul Napoli said.

The counties are trying to hold the various pharmaceutical companies financially responsible for the counties' opioid and heroin epidemics. The counties include Nassau, Suffolk, Schenectady, Broome, Erie, Dutchess, Orange, Seneca and Sullivan. Six additional counties are expected to join the lawsuit in the next few days or weeks.

"We're getting probably three to four phone calls a day from counties," attorney Paul Hanly said. "Not only in New York, but around the nation."

Attorneys for the counties allege that the pharmaceutical companies engaged in deceptive marketing regarding the addictiveness of their prescription painkillers. The counties are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars they spend each year to combat the growing opioid and heroin epidemics. Costs include police overtime, Narcan training and rehabilitation clinics and programs.

"Some of the counties are spending up to 30 percent of their income on police training, Narcan, indigent burials, body bags," attorney Maria Napoli said.

The defendants include Purdue Pharmaceutical, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon Inc, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Allergan Pharmaceuticals, Actavis Inc., Watson Laboratories, Insys Therapeutics, McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., and Amerisource Drug Corporation. Five doctors are also named in the suit.

"It's a long road," Hanly said. "We have a lot of work to do. These are some of the largest companies in the world. Our mandate from our county clients is to move these cases as quickly as possible."

The counties allege the doctors knowingly over-prescribed painkillers to their patients.

"They know where these pills have been going," Paul Napoli said. "They know what pharmacies they go to. They know who the bad doctors are."

Representatives for the pharmaceutical companies declined to comment on the litigation. It is expected they will file a motion to dismiss the case.