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Dutchess County Lawsuit Holds Drug Companies Accountable for Deceptive Practices Leading to Opioid Epidemic

Published: 6/7/2017

For More Information Contact:

Colleen Pillus
(845) 486-2000

Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro announced today Dutchess County Government has filed a lawsuit against 11 pharmaceutical companies for the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers, which has fueled the opioid drug addiction and overdose epidemic that has plagued Dutchess County, as well as the rest of the nation. The civil action lawsuit was filed Tuesday, June 6th in New York State Supreme Court. Dutchess County is among several New York counties that have filed lawsuits, including Broome, Erie, Orange and Suffolk counties.

“The opioid and heroin epidemic is the public health crisis of our lifetime and Dutchess County has lost far too many lives to this scourge. We are devoting as many resources as possible to fight this epidemic and assist those battling addiction,” said County Executive Molinaro. “It is time drug companies acknowledge the devastating damage, take responsibility for their deceptive marketing practices, and be held accountable for misrepresenting the dangers of these addictive painkillers.”

The New York State Department of Health reported 805 opioid-related emergency department admissions in Dutchess County in 2014, an increase of 45 percent since 2010. 256 Dutchess County residents have died from opioids from 2003 through 2014. According to a new report, Injury Facts 2017, from the National Safety Council, accidental poisoning was the leading cause of unintentional death in New York State in 2015, driven by unintentional drug overdose - predominantly from prescription painkillers. Just yesterday, the New York Times reported that drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.

Dutchess County Legislator Jerry Landisi said, “So many lives have been tragically impacted by the opioid crisis. We have been fighting this war on drugs and addiction, but the enemy has been supplied by these pharmaceutical companies who have chosen to put profit ahead of patient safety. The lawsuit says we will not tolerate the damage these companies are inflicting on our society and we will seek justice.”

The lawsuit alleges the pharmaceutical companies engaged in deceptive marketing campaigns that misrepresented the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use, creating false perceptions in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and the benefits of the opioid drugs outweighed the risks. In fact, substantial evidence exists that opioid drugs are ineffective to treat chronic pain, can actually worsen patients’ health and are highly addictive and dangerous.

The National Institutes of Health also identifies drug companies’ “aggressive marketing” as a major contributor to the nation’s opioid abuse problem. Despite a lack of scientific evidence that supports the use of opioids for long-term pain management, since 1999, the amount of prescribed opioids in the United States has nearly quadrupled to 254 million prescriptions in 2010 – enough to medicate every U.S. adult around the clock for a month. In 2012, opioids generated $8 billion in revenue for drug companies.

The lawsuit alleges deceptive acts and practices, false advertising, public nuisance, violation of New York Social Services laws, fraud, and unjust enrichment against defendants Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; as well as physicians Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster, who allegedly were instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally, including in Dutchess County.

The lawsuit also points to criminal activity, including drug-trafficking offenses, as well as costs the county has incurred and continues to incur related to opioid addiction and abuse, such as those covering health care, criminal justice and victimization, social aspects and lost productivity.

The lawsuit seeks relief including compensatory and punitive damages for the tax dollars spent each year to combat this public health crisis. Simmons Hanly Conroy, a national law firm, working together with the Dutchess County Attorney’s Office, will prosecute the litigation. Simmons Hanly Conroy is retained on a contingency basis and only receives compensation for their efforts and reimbursement if the lawsuit is successful.

Dutchess County Legislator Ken Roman said, “A large number of the current generation of opioid addicts are individuals whose first experience was with prescription opioid medications, prescribed by doctors who have been led to believe they are safe. Now these individuals are battling addiction, seeking out cheaper alternatives like heroin and synthetic opioids and are too often dying of accidental overdose. These people are our family, friends, and neighbors. We must stand up to the drug companies who have fueled this epidemic and continue to educate the public about the dangers and risks of prescription opioid painkillers.”