ANTHONY J. Picente Jr.

Potential opioid lawsuit complex, attorney says

Published Dec 5, 2017 at 4:01pm

Three law firms investigating whether Oneida County has a potential case against opioid manufacturing and distribution companies could have recommendation in a month or two about whether the matter is worth taking to court, officials said Monday at a press conference outlining the process and naming the key players in the county’s legal team.

That was the assessment of attorney Robert F. Julian on Monday when County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. held the news conference to introduce the legal team hired to assess whether it might be beneficial for the county to file litigation regarding the expenses incurred fighting the opioid epidemic locally.

Picente said the county has enlisted the Cherundolo Law Firm, Brindisi, Murad, Brindisi & Pearlman, and Robert F. Julian, to evaluate its legal options.

“It has hit this county very hard,” said Picente of the opioid addiction crisis.

Picente said the county is “spending millions of dollars” on prevention, treatment and law enforcement.”

It is a sentiment echoed across the state and the nation, as local communities struggle with increasing numbers of people addicted to opioids and the often staggering cost of law enforcement, treatment and social services related to the crisis.

Julian said the argument against the drug companies is complex, but said, “I think the feeling is they committed fraud...”

His view is that the industry offered painkillers for long-term use that were really meant for short-term use.

The lawyer said it was “too soon” to make an estimate on what the law firms’ investigation might cost.

Attorney Louis T. Brindisi said forensic accountants will be used to calculate and quantify losses and economic damages as the lawyers try to get a handle on what the epidemic has cost the county.

According to the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office, which performs autopsies for Oneida County, of the 166 drug/toxin-related deaths in Oneida County between 2013 and 2016, 56 were heroin-related, 26 were fentanyl-related, 24 were heroin and fentanyl-related and 30 were attributed to other opioids.

Local and state governments around the country are increasingly scrutinizing opioid manufacturers’ marketing practices.

State attorneys general have been conducting a multistate investigation into whether companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioids engaged in unlawful practices.

Some attorneys general have withdrawn from the probe to pursue lawsuits against drugmakers, claiming they engaged in deceptive marketing that underplayed opioids’ risks.

Herkimer County is represented by the same team as Oneida County. Madison County went with the Manhattan-based law firm of Napoli and Shkolnik.

Drug makers have plenty of arguments with which to mount a defense, experts say. They can point to steps they have taken over the last decade to cut down on the potential for misuse. They can pin the blame on a full lineup of other parties that also played a role in the opioid crisis, from doctors to drug distributors to patients themselves.