For the second time this year, Nassau legislators have put the brakes on County Executive Edward Mangano’s plan to sue opioid manufacturers for costs related to the addiction epidemic.
The county legislature’s Rules Committee on Monday tabled a contract with a law firm that would investigate — and possibly file a suit against — makers of the potent prescription painkillers that are frequently blamed for hooking people on cheaper, illicit drugs such as heroin.
The contract with Napoli Shkolnik of Melville was proposed after Mangano initially sought to hire another firm, Manhattan-based Simmons Hanly Conroy, for the same purpose.
That agreement was tabled by the Rules Committee in January, after some lawmakers raised questions about the contingency fees the firm would receive upon a settlement or judgment in favor of the county.
The Napoli contract, however, was halted after a member of Mangano’s administration couldn’t satisfy questions by Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) about why Nassau would want to pursue action against pharmaceutical companies.
After Kopel noted that the opioid painkillers are federally approved — and asked the basis for the county seeking damages — deputy county attorney Gerald Podlesak read a general description of what the law firm proposes, including potential claims of fraudulent marketing.
“I am fully in favor of going ahead and suing someone and receiving something in cases we believe someone’s done us wrong, actually caused us injury. But I’m not hearing how that happened,” Kopel said. “I don’t see that we’re being told what it is that we’re upset about.”
“We’re talking the societal costs of these opioids,” Podlesak said, noting the increased burden on the county social services and police departments.
Nassau’s debate on the issue comes as Suffolk has already filed a lawsuit against 11 pharmaceutical companies and four doctors in State Supreme Court. Suffolk leaders say the defendants fraudulently and misleadingly marketed the painkillers, leading to increased public costs to deal with the addiction epidemic.
A record 442 people on Long Island — 232 in Suffolk and 210 in Nassau — died in 2015 of opiate overdoses, up from 403 in 2014, according to the Nassau and Suffolk county medical examiners’ offices.
Nassau legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said lawmakers would need County Attorney Carnell Foskey to answer more questions about the possible suit before it again considered the law firm contract.
Foskey said in a statement to Newsday that “we are confident that once the Legislature understands the nature of the lawsuit, it will appreciate and approve the contract.”
He compared the action to those once filed against the tobacco industry on behalf of local governments. Opioid manufacturers, Foskey said, “downplayed the risks of addictions and other complications that led to over-prescription of painkillers,” causing the county to spend millions in health care and criminal justice costs.