Nassau County wants to hire an outside law firm for a possible suit against opioid manufacturers, an increasingly common move by municipalities that have seen a surge in addiction and overdoses.
The county attorney’s office last month proposed a contract with the Manhattan firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, which specializes in cases against the opioid industry and was hired in 2015 by Suffolk County for the same purpose.
Suffolk used the firm to sue 11 pharmaceutical companies and four doctors in State Supreme Court. County leaders said the defendants fraudulently and misleadingly marketed the painkillers, leading to increased public costs to deal with an addiction epidemic. The suit is pending.
The Nassau contract — which the county legislature’s Rules Committee tabled this week — calls for the firm to work on a contingency basis, with payment tied to any future settlements or trial awards.
It states: “the county wishes to determine the feasibility of bringing an action against the manufacturers of prescription opiates for damages to the county arising out of aggressive marketing and distribution of opiates in” the county.
In a statement, County Executive Edward Mangano said local governments such as Nassau “have spent millions of dollars in costs related to opioid addiction and abuse including health care costs, criminal justice and victimization and lost productivity.”
At Monday’s Rules Committee meeting, lawmakers said they delayed a vote on the contract because of questions about how much the law firm would receive in the event of a payout to the county.
Still, legislators expressed hope that the county, should the contract be finalized, would investigate both drugmakers and doctors.
“In the community, you hear people say, ‘I bet the doctor has stock ... they’re giving out [opioid painkillers] and getting all these kids addicted and parents addicted to this stuff, and it’s a gold mine,” said Legis. Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown).
The availability of prescription opioids in recent years also has been blamed for a spike in heroin-related deaths, as many people turn to the drug after losing access to prescription pills.
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.
With the opioid epidemic affecting large cities and small towns across the country, many municipalities are turning their attention to the industry that has long produced and marketed the painkillers.
The state of Mississippi, the city of Chicago and two California counties have sued drugmakers over the past several years, alleging fraudulent marketing of addictive painkillers and asking manufacturers to help bear the public costs of the epidemic.
Last year, Broome County in upstate New York also hired Simmons Hanly Conroy to explore a lawsuit against drugmakers.