County picks legal team for opioid suit


Add Oneida County to the list of surrounding counties signing up for legal representation in the growing national movement to sue over the opioid overdose epidemic.

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. was scheduled to announce Monday afternoon that the county is enlisting the services of the Cherundolo Law Firm, Brindisi, Murad, Brindisi & Pearlman, and Robert F. Julian in regard to potential litigation targeting companies and others in the prescription painkiller supply chain.

If filed, the objective would be to recover some of the money spent by the county’s criminal justice and social services departments for everything from the addicts and suppliers who are arrested or hospitalized to those who die.

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

Oneida County Attorney Peter M. Rayhill sent out a request for proposals to law firms prior to the selection of the Cherundolo, Brindisi and Julian offices. Julian is a former state Supreme Court justice and was an
Oneida County legislator for many years. State Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi, D-119, Utica, is “of counsel” to the Brindisi law firm.

Lawsuits alleging negligence and aggressive sales tactics are popping up around the country. Drug makers face accusations that the core of the opioid crisis has their fingerprints on it. They encouraged greater and longer use of their painkillers, critics have contended.

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.

More than 52,000 Americans died in 2015 from drug overdoses, most of them involving prescription opioids or related illicit drugs such as fentanyl and heroin, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Donald Trump has declared the epidemic a national public health emergency.

The litigation being brought by cities, counties and states is being likened to what happened with the tobacco industry. In 1998, cigarette companies made a $248 billion civil settlement with states to snuff out public health-related suits. Oneida County used $39.6 million of its share to pay down debt and $11 million to fund capital projects, according to County Comptroller Joseph J. Timpano.


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