Schuyler County joins legal battle against ‘Big Pharma’

Schuyler County officials are formally taking “big pharma” to court.

On Friday Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman filed a nearly 250-page Summons and Complaint against manufacturers and distributers of prescription opiates for damages to the County arising out of the fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of opiates in and to the County.

“Over the past few years, despite its small population, Schuyler County has seen an uptick in opioid and heroin use and overdose,” Getman said. “To date, County officials have expended significant resources to help its residents battle opioid addiction and prevent further deaths. The lawsuit will seek to reimburse the County for its expenses related to the opioid crisis as well as provide the County with financial assistance to continue this battle.”

The Summons names approximately thirty defendants, including some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry, such as: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Actavis Pharma, Inc. and Insys Therapeutics, Inc.

The Complaint alleges the defendants knew–and had known for years–that opioids were addictive and subject to abuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic non-cancer pain, and should not be used except as a last-resort. However, the Complaint alleges, the defendants spent hundreds of millions of dollars disseminating scientific materials and advertising that misrepresented the risks of opioids’ long-term use.

“The United States is now awash in opioids,” the Complaint says.

Schuyler County’s lawsuit is its latest move in the attempt to hold the defendants responsible for the costs of addressing the opioid epidemic. The County Legislature voted in August 2017 to retain the firm of Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC to work with Getman, as special counsel, to bring this action. In March, the legislature passed a local law formally declaring the opioid epidemic “a public nuisance” and establishing a cost recovery mechanism related to the public funds spent on fighting the epidemic.

According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, the lawsuit was filed at no risk to the County, as Napoli Shkolnik will work on contingency basis that will cover all costs associated with the lawsuit.

“By going forward with litigation, the County Legislature hopes to lessen the burden to taxpayers and seeks to hold manufacturers and distributors responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic,” O’Hearn said.

“For many years the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medications have earned billions of dollars in profits flooding this Country with opioids” said Napoli Shkolnik attorney Joseph L. Ciaccio. “These lawsuits seek to force those companies to help clean up the devastation caused by these pills.”

“These drug companies have poisoned our communities and polluted our children” said Paul Napoli, of counsel for Napoli Shkolnik. Napoli leads the charge with Hunter Shkolnik against drug companies nationwide.

Napoli added that “our door is open” to other New York municipalities “who are also fed up with the overdose epidemic, and that Napoli Law has the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the big pharma lawyers.”

Schuyler County is the latest New York State county to file a lawsuit against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York are suing pharmaceutical companies for what they’re claiming are deceptive marketing practices. In addition, in February, New York State officials filed a lawsuit against Insys Therapeutics, Inc., alleging that Insys deceptively promoted prescription opiate Subsys for unsafe uses and violated state law by downplaying drug’s addictive risks.

The defendants will have approximately thirty days from service of the Summons to file answers to the Complaint.