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Suffolk County sues pharmaceutical companies over drug abuse

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, at a

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, at a news conference in Hauppauge, on Aug. 31, 2016, holds up a copy of a lawsuit the county filed against pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuit alleges the companies engaged in fraudulent and misleading marketing by omitting details on the use of opiods and the risks that go along with them. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk County lawmakers have taken their fight against opioid addiction to the manufacturers.

On Wednesday the county sued 11 pharmaceutical companies and four physicians who attorneys said promoted the drugs’ use.

The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, alleges the companies engaged in fraudulent and misleading marketing by omitting details on the use of the drugs and the risks that go along with them.

“We are in deep here in Suffolk County,” Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco said at a news conference. “It is costing us a lot of money for crime prevention, for rehab, for treatment. We are struggling and it is time for the pharmaceutical companies to be held accountable for that.”

Named in the lawsuit are Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc., The Purdue Frederick Co., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Endo Health Solutions, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster.

The Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously on Tuesday to hire the Manhattan law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy to file the lawsuit.

“We firmly believe the allegations in this litigation are both legally and factually unfounded,” Jessica Castles Smith, spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., said in a statement. “Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label.”

Purdue Pharma officials had no comment about the lawsuit. Representatives of other firms could not be reached or did not respond to requests for comment.

County officials said they have tried to deal with opioid abuse problem by forming a task force to address the issue, instituting public awareness programs and supplying Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, to county emergency personnel.

But Suffolk officials said they shouldn’t have to carry the load alone and that it is time for the pharmaceutical companies to be held responsible.

The county is seeking monetary compensation from the companies and want it used for rehabilitation and prevention efforts in the county, but they did not identify the amount they were looking for.

Between 1996 and 2011, the number of people entering substance abuse programs in Suffolk County increased 1,136 percent, according to the lawsuit.

Calarco said opioid medications were at one time just used for patients who were at their “end of days,” but over time that changed with pharmaceutical companies motivating doctors to prescribe opioids such as OxyContin and Percocet for other uses.

He said big money is responsible for the change and the millions of dollars generated by the “end of days” patients has turned into billions of dollars in profits for pharmaceutical companies.

“We are the only industrialized nation in the world that allows these products to be given for anything other than end of life care,” Calarco said.

With David M. Schwartz


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