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Suffolk anti-opioid suit becomes lead case in state

Paul Hanly, an attorney representing Suffolk County in

Paul Hanly, an attorney representing Suffolk County in the lawsuit presenting the county in the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma LP, addresses the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County’s lawsuit against drug companies and physicians it accuses of fueling the county’s opioid epidemic will be heard in February before State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo, an attorney for the county said Thursday.

About 20 lawsuits by New York counties have been coordinated with Suffolk County’s case for discovery purposes, Paul Hanly, chairman of complex litigation for the Manhattan law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, told the county legislature’s Ways and Means Committee.

A decision is expected in April on motions to dismiss the case by the eleven drug companies and three physicians named as plaintiffs.

“We are very confident that Justice Garguilo will deny most if not all motions to dismiss. Your case, being the leading case in the state, will proceed through the discovery phase,” Hanly said.

Suffolk in August 2016 became the second county in the nation and the first in New York to sue drugmakers in connection with opioid abuse. More than 300 counties are suing drug manufacturers, Hanly said.

Nassau County’s suit against nearly two dozen pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and doctors, filed in June, will be among the actions coordinated with Suffolk’s. Hanly said the suits allege that drugmakers engaged in fraudulent and misleading marketing by telling doctors that the new generation of opiates are nonaddictive starting in 2015.

Purdue Pharmaceutical, the lead defendant in the case and the manufacturer of OxyContin, said in a statement, “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

The company said, “We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution.”

Suffolk County’s lawsuit seeks an unspecified sum from the drug companies and doctors for increased county costs for Medicaid, rehabilitation programs, law enforcement and the medical examiner.

Hanly said the county would seek ongoing payments for education related to opiate addiction and reforms to company practices.

Hanley said after the meeting that the amount could approach $100 million for the county. He said his law firm will get a percentage of the settlement, likely 25 percent, but more if the case goes on longer.

A record 349 people died from opioid overdoses in Suffolk in 2016, while 190 died in Nassau County.

“We have a terrible crisis that only seems to be getting worse. We’re losing people at an alarming rate to opiate addiction,” said Legis. Bridget Fleming, (D-Noyac), chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee.

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