Suffolk County on Tuesday added eight family members who controlled Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharmacy and some major pharmacy chains to its lawsuit against opioid manufacturers seeking damages for allegedly fueling the county’s drug epidemic.
It’s the first time that members of the Sackler family, descendants of brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler who controlled Purdue, are added to a lawsuit of this kind in New York State, attorneys for the county said.
CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart’s retail operations were also sued as retail outlets for public nuisance, unjust enrichment and negligence. They were also sued as wholesale distributors.
The amended complaint filed in state Supreme Court in Central Islip says the members of the Sackler family “knowingly aided, abetted, participated in, and benefitted from the wrongdoing of Purdue” and knew that prescription OxyContin was being widely abused since 1999. That year, it first assigned an employee to monitor online chat rooms focused on drugs, prompted by concerns raised by a sales representative, the suit says. The fall 1999 memo, sent to senior executives and board members, described how users would remove the coating on OxyContin pills, crush them, cook them, and snort or inject them, according to the complaint.
"As alleged in the amended complaint, the Sacklers knew the dangers of opioids and chose to ignore them," said Paul J. Hanly Jr., shareholder with the Manhattan-based law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, in a statement. He said the Sacklers "have manufactured, promoted and recklessly marketed opioids by omitting critical information that could have saved thousands of lives, communities and families if known sooner."
A spokesman for the Sackler family, Linden Zakula, declined to comment.
Calls to a national association that represents the chains sued could not immediately be reached for comment.
The amended complaint said that the pharmacy companies at both the wholesale and retail levels "flooded ... the county with opioids, failed to detect suspicious orders, and failed to prevent diversion of these dangerous products."
A Suffolk judge ruled in July that opioid manufacturers and distributors have shown no reason why dozens of suits against them by counties and municipalities from across New York State should be dismissed. Similar suits from around the state, including those filed by Nassau and Suffolk counties, were consolidated into one action before state Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo in Central Islip.
The suits claim the businesses fueled the opioid epidemic through a fraudulent marketing campaign that misrepresented the drugs' safety and effectiveness. They seek compensation for the governmental costs of dealing with opioid addiction, which includes higher expenditures on Medicaid, rehabilitation programs, law enforcement and even a greater number of autopsies.
The manufacturers and distributors have argued that they can't be held liable for selling a legal product that is regulated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency charged with protecting public health.
“Suffolk County has been at the forefront of fighting the opioid epidemic and is leading the State in seeking justice against the perpetrators of this alleged fraud,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement.