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Dutchess Files Suit Against Drug Companies Amid Opioid Epidemic

Oxycodone pills

The fight against the opioid epidemic has seen a variety of approaches, including changes to law enforcement policies and an increased focus on prevention. Now, a few counties in the Hudson Valley have filed suit against pharmaceutical companies. Dutchess County is the latest to allege the companies have used deceptive practices, leading to the crisis. And at least one other Hudson Valley county is considering filing suit.

Dutchess County government is suing 11 pharmaceutical companies. County Executive Marc Molinaro says the companies’ marketing of prescription opioids, or painkillers, has fueled drug addiction and overdoses.

“We believe that the opioid epidemic and, by extension, the heroin epidemic has become, frankly, the public health crisis of our lifetime and that these pharmaceutical companies have some responsibility and ought to be held accountable for practices that have ultimately caused devastation in families and communities across the country,” Molinaro says.

Dutchess follows Orange County, which announced in May it had filed suit. Broome, Erie, Schenectady and Suffolk Counties filed their suits earlier this year. Meanwhile, Rockland County Executive Ed Day says county officials are evaluating law firms.

“We’re looking at the potential of engaging in litigation, and the reason we’re doing that is not to go grab money; there is a cost to this,” Day says. “The cost of addiction is skyrocketing and I think it’s unfair to ask the taxpayers to foot that bill when they are actually not doing anything to make the problem worse and that’s really what we’re looking at.”

Day sees a parallel between big pharmaceutical companies and their marketing of opioids to big tobacco companies marketing their products decades earlier. Day says it’s time for Rockland to fight back in addition to saving lives.

“I think there’s a relatively strong likelihood we will pursue it,” says Day.

According to the complaint for Orange County, the New York state Department of Health recorded 943 opioid-related emergency department admissions in the county in 2014, an increase of 17.5 percent since 2010. In 2015, 44 Orange County residents died from overdoses involving opioid pain relievers. The state Department of Health reported 805 opioid-related emergency department admissions in Dutchess County in 2014, an increase of 45 percent since 2010. And 256 Dutchess County residents have died from opioid use from 2003 through 2014. Again, Molinaro.

“And Dutchess County felt after reasonable review and conducting due diligence that now is time for us really to add to not only the litigation but also to what has been years of coordinated investment in responding to this epidemic,” Molinaro says.

It’s an epidemic, says Molinaro that has cost the county in a few ways.

“We’re spending millions of dollars to both address the need to educate and prevent, to intervene and to help people along the road to recovery,” says Molinaro. “And those costs continue to grow and, without question, the lives lost are the greatest cost to families and neighborhoods across America.”

Dutchess County’s lawsuit points to criminal activity, including drug-trafficking offenses, as well as costs the county has incurred and continues to incur related to opioid addiction and abuse, such as those covering health care, criminal justice and victimization, social aspects and lost productivity. The lawsuit seeks relief including compensatory and punitive damages for the tax dollars spent each year to combat this public health crisis. Simmons Hanly Conroy, which is representing Dutchess in addition to the other New York counties, is retained on a contingency basis and receives compensation for its efforts and reimbursement only if the lawsuit is successful.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the country’s leading biopharmaceutical research companies and includes some of the companies named in counties’ lawsuits, did not respond to a request for comment.

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