Suing Big Pharma? Tompkins County Voting on Opioid Lawsuit Thursday

Categories Health Care, Ithaca, Politics

By Josh Brokaw

The Tompkins County Legislature will be voting at its Thursday, November 9 meeting on whether to file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical opioid manfacturers for county costs associated with the opioid addiction crisis.

This reporter has misplaced his notes from the November 1 Government Operations committee meeting at which Tompkins County legislators discussed authorizing the county attorney to “commence civil litigation against opioid manufacturers and others who have harmed the County by promoting the abuse of opioids and to retain counsel to represent the County in such litigation.” But Kelsey O’Connor and Nick Reynolds have both written adequately about that meeting.

What TruthSayers would like to add to this conversation are some notes from an interview with Steven Getman, the Schuyler County attorney, about the experience Schuyler County has had so far after its legislature authorized a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers on August 14.

Schuyler County voted to be represented by New York City law firm Napoli Shkolnik, which is representing Genessee, Nassau, and Saratoga counties in similar lawsuits; law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy has also been selected to represent at least eight New York counties.

Getman said Schuyler County “received proposals from more than one firm,” and went with Napoli Shkolnik because their “proposal felt comfortable with the fees, the costs, and the level of communication.”

Depending on when recovery of damage occurs, Getman said, the range of compensation for the law firm ranges from 7.5 to 25 percent of any total award to the county.

“We won’t be billed for costs unless we receive a settlement of judgment in our favor,” Getman said. Each county is filing individual lawsuits, which “differs from a class action, where group of plaintiffs all brought together under one single action, one group of attorneys.”

Currently, Getman’s office is working with a counsel from Napoli Shkolnik to draft a complaint. Schuyler County hasn’t yet gone through the process of “quantifying the cost” of the opioid epidemic to county services. That process of figuring out how the opioid crisis has cost taxpayers money causes Tompkins legislators some concern, though not enough to prevent the proposed suit from passing on for a full vote this week. The idea of litigating this for two to six years, and spending the staff time to make that quantification, has kept filing such a lawsuit in question in Cayuga County.


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In Schuyler County, “department heads were supportive because of costs, not yet quantified, but that they believe have been incurred as a result of the opioid epidemic,” Getman said.

Opioids “certainly costs municipalities in terms of social services costs and child protective costs,” Getman continued. “People addicted to opioids are more likely to abuse and neglect children … and ultimately can require children to be removed to foster care …  even a single child placed into a residential facility costs hundreds of dollars per day to a county.”

“The theory of the case is for many years, manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medications, prescription pain medications, earned substantial sums of money from products by negligently marketing these substances,” Get man said, “causing people to become addicted and causing people perhaps to engage in illegal drug use.”

Getman noted that since Schuyler County decided to file this lawsuit, John Kapoor, a drug company founder, has been arrested and charged with conspiracy by the federal government for encouraging and bribing doctors to prescribe liquid fentanyl to people.

“Really, what our goal is here is protect our taxpayers from financial burden, protect citizens from danger, and do what we can to make those responsible on every level pay for endangering the health, safety, and fiscal well being of people of Schuyler County,” Getman said.

It’s anticipated  that Schuyler County — and likely Tompkins County, if it also files one  of these lawsuits — will have their case heard in Nassau County court, where these types of cases are being consolidated.

Do you have a story to tell about how opioids have affected you or someone you care about? Email josh.brokaw@truthsayers.org and we’ll help you tell your story.


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Help Support TruthSaying Reporting

If you ever have photos, video, or reporting from an event you’d like to share on TruthSayers, email josh.brokaw@truthsayers.org. Be a reporter! Or a photographer! A filmmaker! A webmaster! You can support TruthSayerswork with a donation, too, at the link. Funds go toward equipment, web hosting, and throwing a few bucks to founding journalist Josh Brokaw so he can keep reporting local news in Tompkins County and the surrounding region.

 

Josh Brokaw is an independent reporter based in Ithaca, N.Y.

Email josh.brokaw@truthsayers.org with tips, story suggestions, and gentle criticism.

Twitter: @jdbrokaw


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