Officials in the city of Plattsburgh have joined a growing list of municipalities planning to sue pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis.
A somewhat innocuous item appeared for approval on the Plattsburgh Common Council agenda Wednesday. It stated: “RESOLVED: In accordance with the request therefore the Common Council approves that the Mayor is authorized to sign Boyajian Retainer agreement for opioid litigation.” Before councilors voted Mayor Colin Read briefly explained the measure. "We’ll see if we can protect people who have suffered harm from the opioid problem as a consequence of over provision of opioid drugs by manufacturers and providers.”
The NYS Department of Health is required to report on opioid-related data and prevention efforts. According to its Opioid Annual Report published in October 2017: “The age-adjusted rate of all opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 population in New York State doubled between 2010 and 2015.” Opioids in the report include those that are prescribed and illegal opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, or fentanyl.
The lawsuit the city is signing onto is being coordinated by the Albany law firm Dreyer Boyajian. Founding Partner Donald Boyajian says lawsuits are being filed across the country. "Various municipalities going from states to counties to cities and even towns and villages are understanding the fact that they have some rights to try to recoup some of the expense that they’ve incurred as a result of the epidemic.”
Boyajian notes that technically the effort is a centralized action rather than a class action.
Mayor Read says there is no cost to the city to join. “We’re banding together to try to recoup some of the costs from what we contend is an overly lax system for the manufacture and distribution of pain killing drugs to the point where in some communities the number of prescriptions seem to outnumber the number of citizens. So clearly there’s a really imbalance and some improprieties.”
Boyajian explains that in passing the resolution the city is signing up for an analysis to understand the costs it has incurred to respond to the opioid crisis. “This is a real problem in virtually every municipality in that there’s increased numbers of EMS and first responders responding to overdose and other issues. So it involves costs for police and for fire and for the drugs which are administered. Cities that have medical examiners have costs. Cities that have public hospitals have costs, now Plattsburgh does not, but the whole idea is that those increased costs really should be borne by what we believe are the people who are really responsible for this epidemic, at least in part and to hold them accountable for some of those costs.”
In early March, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties Stephen Acquario was on a panel at the National Association of Counties’ Legislative Conference in Washington discussing opioid related litigation. According to the national group, several states and more than 100 counties filed lawsuits in 2017 against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of the drugs. While some cities, towns and villages are now joining the lawsuit, Acquario said almost all counties in New York have already joined the litigation. “We provide the most services to those in need and the public at large. Criminal justice services, medical examiner costs, toxicology lab costs, police services, mental health, addiction counseling, substance abuse services, the impact in foster care and of course court costs, prosecution, probation. There are many many costs associated with this and we will aggressively pursue those damages through litigation.”
The lawsuits do not target individual physicians.