NYS Exposed: Counties may join lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis

August 28, 2017 11:30 PM

BATAVIA – Did the makers of pain pills cause the opioid crisis that is crippling so many of our communities? A number of local counties think so and are exploring the idea of joining a class action lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies.

Upwards of 15 counties including Genesee and Wyoming have or are likely to join the lawsuit; leaders say often, it’s taxpayers who foot the bill for medical care, treatment programs even death benefits for those who are addicted to opioids.

“Pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed the availability of the opioids without really having any good data behind long-term studies, long-term effects for chronic pain or anything like that,” says Laura Paolucci, the Administrator for the Wyoming County Health Department.

When some of those who relied on the pills could no longer access them, they turned to a cheaper alternative that offered a similar feel: heroin.

Most local sheriffs, police chiefs and deputies locally will tell you the same thing: "Death associated with an overdose used to be fairly rare, now responding to calls where there's an overdose has become almost routine,” says William Sheron, the Genesee County Sheriff.

In New York State alone, there was a 13 percent increase in overdose-related deaths in 2016 compared to the year before. "This is something we're not going to arrest our way out of,” adds Sheriff Sheron.

County administrators say the class action could be a way to at least start to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable. "For us, as a county government, we’re paying significant dollars out in Medicaid expenses for residents in this community who need that for health care, in treatment programs that we support,” says Jay Gsell, the Genesee County Manager adding, “it's more about how do you get their attention and change the nature of how this industry is producing and or is recommending that these opioids be issued on such a broad scale basis.”

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC):  "A lot of people will say… What good is suing the big pharma companies… isn’t that like suing a car manufacturer when someone drives off a cliff?"
Laura Paolucci: "If you drive your car off a cliff and its faulty steering then someone should be held accountable."

The attorney general in the state of Ohio has filed a similar lawsuit against drug makers saying in 2012, enough drugs were prescribed to provide 68 pills to every single person living in that state.  Any money recovered in a potential settlement would go back to counties who have been forced to pay for care and centers that offer treatment and education about drug addiction.

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Jennifer Lewke

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