Legislators bang the gavel to sue drug companies
Legis. Rob Calarco at Riverhead Tuesday, during the drug vote.

Photo by Steve Gravano

Legislators bang the gavel to sue drug companies

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
10/8/2015


Suffolk Legislators voted unanimously 18-0 to commence legal action against pharmaceutical companies who overzealously market prescription opiates, Tuesday night. 

The drug companies are not mentioned in the resolution. Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), who introduced two bills with Legis. Kara Hahn as co-sponsor that pushed the decision forward, said the resolution would attempt two objectives. “Our county law department thinks we have a good case,” Calarco said. “The issue is that there are prescribed opiates that are inappropriately marketed and misrepresented as safe for long-term use and misrepresented as being not addictive. The law firm we’ve hired will be responsible for coming up with a dollar amount, which we believe the county has incurred to our health insurance plan for our employees and Medicaid costs for low-income individuals. They’ll determine how much we spent on those who have become addicted, whether on treatment programs or the fact we have to put NARCAN in our police cars as well as the societal costs that include people holding up convenience stores, etc. to fuel their addiction.”

Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC, a Manhattan firm, has been retained on a contingency basis to represent the county. 

“They’ll frame the lawsuit and draft it up and will also be responsible for filing it with the court,” Calarco explained. “This won’t be an overnight thing.”

Calarco said there was some discussion on what the county was alleging. “In my opinion, what we’re dealing with is that these drug companies are not telling people the full risk involved in taking these opioids. We are one of the only nations in the world that prescribes such high potency products with such regularity.” 

The decision resulted in a thoughtful process after a resolution passed last November, directing the county attorney to study the feasibility of such an action. Two additional bills were passed in November; one that created a six-member committee to review the lawsuit’s viability, the other to provide a study of opioid addiction and abuse-related costs in Suffolk County. 

The county’s action follows a small but growing trend of legal action from municipalities concerned about the troubling rise in opioid addiction. In August, New York Attorney General A.G. Schneiderman announced a settlement with Purdue Pharma to insure responsible and transparent marketing of prescription opioid drugs by the manufacturer. The agreement strengthened and made permanent an internal Purdue program that would prevent its sales staff from promoting the powerful painkiller to health care providers who may be involved in abuse and illegal diversion of opioids. It also requires Purdue to disclose financial relationships with any individuals, including doctors and other health care professionals, who appear on the company’s “unbranded” websites that endorse the benefits of pain treatment.

According to an official from the Attorney General’s office, Purdue will provide annual information to the external auditor regarding this information for three years. The auditor will then evaluate Purdue’s compliance and present their findings in a written report with the first report due August 2016. The Attorney General’s office will also monitor the drug firm. 

Purdue was also required to pay $75,000 to the state.
Calarco began pushing for legal action, one that might seem unlikely, last fall. But the impetus he pointed to involved two California counties, Orange and Santa Clara, as well as the city of Chicago that filed two separate federal lawsuits last summer charging that certain opioid manufacturers knowingly and aggressively marketed opioids by misrepresenting their drugs. The drug companies targeted were Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin; Endo Health Solutions, Inc., which makes opioids such as Percocet; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries that makes Actiq; Janssen Pharmaceuticals that makes Duragesic; and Actavis that makes Kadian.

The county will seek to recover damages associated with the over-prescription of opiates.

Several statistics from the Suffolk County Health Assessment Report 2014-2017 have emerged chronicling a harrowing jump in opioid-related deaths, by 30 percent between 2007-2011. The incidence of oxycodone, which appears in 33 percent of opioid-related deaths nearly doubled between 2007 and 2011, it said.