With social services stressed and law enforcement often overwhelmed, a growing number of counties in New York are choosing to bring legal action against manufacturers of prescription opioids as they grapple with the addiction crisis.
Last week Schenectady County joined Broome, Erie, and Suffolk counties, which have filed lawsuits against various makers of addictive prescription opioid drugs.
According to a release, the counties, in suits filed through New York City-based firm Simmons Hanley Conroy in New York State Supreme Court, “seek relief including compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars they spend each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.”
Schenectady County Attorney Chris Gardner said opioid use is on the rise here, as in the rest of New York and the nation.
“For example, in 2014 there was 529 opioid-related inpatient hospital admissions in our county, which is an increase of 20 percent over 2010,” said Gardner.
Prescription opioids, like painkillers, can often lead to addiction to illegal substances like heroin, which can be cheaper and easier to obtain.
Gardner said costs to the county are on the rise as it deals with those affected by addiction to substances both legal and illegal.
“Opioid use is implicated in many foster parent situations where we have to put the kids in foster care because their parents are addicted to opioids and there’s a significant cost there. We know our jail as more individuals in it because of opioid use. We know that we have to prosecute more crimes because of opioid use,” said Gardner.
In January Schenectady County officials announced an expansion to the Drug Unit that was created in 2015 largely in response to increased addiction rates.
Stephen Acquario, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties, said addiction is a disease and that counties across the state are trying to find ways to fight back.
“People in the state of New York, policymakers at the state level, lawmakers, agencies, the Department of Health, the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, they truly care about this issue. Unfortunately, opioid addiction, heroin, fentanyl, it’s a stigma,” said Acquario.
Leaders from several New York counties gathered in Schenectady County earlier this month for a heroin and opioid abuse forum organized by NYSAC. The event featured Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who shared findings of the National Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Abuse.
Acquario predicts more counties will consider suing.
“And I imagine that will be more and more roll-in counties looking at this to address this issue in any way that they can,” said Acquario.