St. Lawrence County Services committee supports joining class action lawsuit targeting opioid manufacturers
By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- As St. Lawrence County Services Committee voted 10-3 in favor of joining a class action lawsuit that seeks damages from prescription drug companies that produce opioids.
While the services committee agreed to join the suit, another vote from the Board of Legislators is required before the county can move forward. However, the committee and board are made up of the same members.The county recently met with an attorney from Simmons, Hanly and Conroy following discussions with County Attorney Stephen Button.
Law firm co-founder Paul J. Hanly, Jr. told the board the litigation is premised on a theory that opioid drug manufacturers worked collectively to widely circulate marketing materials declaring opioids safe – despite contrary medical statistics and medical studies and, as such, these manufacturers have played a significant role in the current drug epidemic that is devastating counties across New York State and the rest of the country, according to county attorney Stephen Button.
Cases currently pending and brought by counties seek to recover the costs counties have incurred in fighting the epidemic, from addiction and health treatment costs to criminal justice costs.
The New York counties of Suffolk, Erie, Broome, Orange, Dutchess, Seneca, Sullivan and Schenectady are in pending litigation regarding the same claims.
Simmons, Hanly and Conroy is probably best known as the firm that commenced litigation and ultimately succeeded against Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories for damages suffered by the class as a result of the usage and prescription of Oxycontin, according to Button.
That litigation resulted in a settlement of $75 million. The firm has also been involved with litigation against manufacturers Johnson & Johnson (Fentanyl), Merck and Co. (Vioxx), Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals (Darvocet/Darvon) and Pfizer (Celebrex), and many others.
St. Lawrence County Chairman Kevin Acres opposes the suit.
Acres says the argument is that many of those who are now using heroin became addicted first to prescription painkillers, but transitioned to heroin due to the lower price and accessibility. However he says that theory hasn’t been proven.
Acres said it’s unclear exactly how much money the county would receive in a successful lawsuit, but said the law firm plans to spend $10-$20 million in New York litigation.
St. Lawrence County, like many places in the nation, has seen a massive rise in heroin use with needles found on a near-daily basis in the streets and parks in Ogdensburg in Massena.
St. Lawrence County has the second-highest opioid related-inpatient hospital admissions rate in the state and in the past four years, and drug-related hospital stays have risen more than 60 percent, according to the state Department of Health.
DOH figures also indicate at least 31 people died from opiate or heroin overdoses in St. Lawrence County between 2010 and 2014 and the number appears to be rising.
A massive drug bust June 2 netted 106 arrests, 2,600 bags of heroin, 700 bags of cocaine and 3,005 bags of Fentanyl. The combined street value of the drugs was estimated at $94,575 by police, who also recovered $89,000 in cash.
Additionally, investigators seized three handguns, two stun guns, a dagger, a shotgun, and a bullet proof vest stolen from a Tompkins County Sheriff’s Deputy.
Despite the major bust, heroin arrests and overdoses have continued throughout the county.