Nassau County Sues Drugmakers Over Opioid Epidemic

By Joseph De Avila Features Dow Jones Newswires

Nassau County filed a lawsuit Monday against several pharmaceutical companies, alleging their prescription painkillers helped fuel the opioid epidemic that costs the county millions of dollars annually to combat.

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The complaint, filed in Nassau County Supreme Court, targets several companies including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Purdue Pharma LP and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. The defendants also include drug distributors and doctors.

"We firmly believe the allegations in this lawsuit are both legally and factually unfounded," a spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals said.

A spokesman for Purdue Pharma said the company shares the concerns of public officials regarding the opioid crisis and is committed to finding collaborative solutions. A spokeswoman for Teva echoed those remarks.

"Teva is committed to the appropriate promotion and use of opioids," the Teva spokeswoman said.

Nassau is the latest municipality to take aim at drugmakers. States and the federal government have previously pursued legal action against Purdue, alleging improper marketing of the painkiller OxyContin, and won settlements from the company.

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Purdue Frederick Co., an affiliate of Purdue Pharma, and three of its executives pleaded guilty in 2007 in federal court to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive qualities of OxyContin. The company and executives paid more than $634.5 million in penalties

Some cities and counties have pursued lawsuits against broader groups of opioid painkiller makers. Ohio filed a similar suit against five drug companies in May.

Attorneys for Nassau County said in the lawsuit that the Long Island county, with a population of about 1.4 million, has had to invest in health care and law enforcement as a result of the opioid addiction epidemic, and pay for training seminars for the overdose antidote naloxone.

"The opioid crisis is costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year, and this action seeks to recoup dollars for important awareness, education, enforcement and treatment initiatives to combat the war on drug abuse and addiction," said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. The county is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

On Long Island, nearly 500 people died from opioid overdoses last year, the highest number of deaths to date.

Suffolk County, also on Long Island, along with Sullivan and Orange counties are among the New York municipalities that have also taken legal action against the pharmaceutical industry. The state of Ohio, the city of Chicago and counties in California have also launched litigation.

More than 33,000 people died in 2015 from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up nearly 16% from the year before.

In addition to incurring costs related to the opioid epidemic, Nassau County alleged that all the companies named in its lawsuit used deceptive marketing tactics to "convince doctors and patients that the benefits of using opioids to treat chronic pain outweighed the risks and that opioids could be used safely by most patients."

The lawsuit also accuses the opioid distributors of negligence for failing to exercise care in the distribution of the drug.

Write to Joseph De Avila at joseph.deavila@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 12, 2017 19:33 ET (23:33 GMT)