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Opioids manufacturer settles with Nassau, Suffolk and New York State as part of landmark case

Oxycodone pain pills in a 2013 photo.

Oxycodone pain pills in a 2013 photo.  Credit: TNS/Liz O. Baylen

Drug manufacturer Allergan Finance agreed Wednesday to pay Suffolk, Nassau and New York State up to $200 million to resolve allegations that it helped fuel the opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives on Long Island, Attorney General Letitia James said.

The agreement was announced just before closing arguments began in the landmark lawsuit filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court by the state and the counties against opioid distributors and manufacturers, including Allergan. The jury, which began hearing testimony in Central Islip in late June, could begin deliberations on remaining defendants this week.

"It is six months too late but Allergan stepped up and did the right thing for the people of Nassau, Suffolk and New York," Hunter Skolnik, an attorney representing Nassau, said of the deal that releases Allergan as a defendant.

New York State, according to the settlement, will get about $144 million, which is required by law to be spent on drug treatment, education programs and support for substance abusers.

"While no amount of money will ever make up for the thousands who lost their lives or became addicted to opioids across our state, these funds will be used to prevent future devastation," James said Wednesday.

Nassau and Suffolk will receive about $27 million each, according to the agreement.

"To secure a settlement of this size at this stage in the trial is a huge victory for Suffolk County and communities throughout New York State," said Jayne Conroy, an attorney representing Suffolk.

Allergan issued a statement that said it was "pleased" with the agreement.

"Allergan previously made the decision to voluntarily discontinue its branded prescription opioid business, which had a minimal market share of less than one percent of nationwide prescriptions," the company said.

The lawsuit claims the manufacturers and distributors created a public nuisance by downplaying the risk of addiction, minimizing the dangers of the drugs and aggressively and dishonestly promoting use of opioid painkillers. Attorneys for the defendants have argued that corrupt doctors, pill mills, street gangs, international cartels and lax regulation are responsible for the opioid epidemic that has devastated many Long Island families and communities.

Attorneys for the state and counties had not presented evidence supporting claims that the marketing and sales pitches of Teva Phamaceuticals, the remaining defendant in the state action, encouraged physicians to overprescribe opioids, the company’s attorney Harvey Bartle said Wednesday. He told jurors that the New York State Department of Health and other regulators and medical organizations urged doctors to treat pain more aggressively during the 2000s. Teva and its affiliates, he said, were victims of shifting medical standards.

"They have not and will not tell you if any of our clients’ conduct resulted in any medically unnecessary prescriptions that caused any harm to any person in Nassau, Suffolk and the State of New York," Bartle said of lawyers for the state and counties.

Suffolk County initiated the lawsuit in 2016, and four national drug distributors and six opioid manufacturers were named as defendants when the attorney general joined the action in March 2019. The defendants included Purdue Pharma, the company many public health officials have said initiated the opioid epidemic with aggressive marketing of the painkiller OxyContin. The suit also named the Sackler family, Purdue’s principal owners, as defendants.

Most of the defendants have agreed to settlements worth up to $1.7 billion, James said Wednesday, money that will be used to combat opioid abuse. Drug distributor Anda Inc. remains a defendant in the counties’ action.

Those settlements include a $50 million deal reached in September with drugmaker Endo. A settlement with the Sacklers, also reached in September, calls for the state to receive at least $200 million from the family and the foundations they control, part of a larger $4.5 billion bankruptcy settlement.

"This settlement is great news and as fatal overdoses continue to tear apart Long Island's families," said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family & Children's Association, which provides treatment for substance abuse. "It's time to deploy settlement dollars into prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction programs."

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