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New York opioid trial by jury in Suffolk

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Opening arguments are set to begin this week at Central Islip in a class action lawsuit filed by Nassau, Suffolk and New York Attorney General Letitia James, which accuses pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of fueling the opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives on Long Island over the past decade.

The lawsuit could set a model for a future national settlement with drug manufacturers and distributors, said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, an advocacy organization for 62 governments. counties in the state.

“This trial is about holding the defendants accountable and ensuring that Suffolk County gets the resources it needs to deal with this crisis,” said Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy, a lawyer representing Suffolk.

WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW

Statewide Opioid Trial is expected to start in Suffolk County this week.

Lawsuit Alleges Drug Manufacturers and Distributors Aggressively Pushed Opioid Painkillers in New York City communities while minimizing their dangers and the possibility of addiction.

The trial will take place in Touro Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center of the College.

State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo will preside over the trial, which is expected to last at least six to eight weeks.

The opioid litigation in New York will be the first of its kind in the country to go to a jury, which is expected to hear from hundreds of witnesses.

Unlike litigation in other states, Acquario said, the New York case involves not only pharmacies, but manufacturers and other parties. New York, with its mix of large cities, suburbs and rural communities, is also a microcosm of the nation, Acquario said, calling Suffolk and Nassau “flagship counties.”

“If they can fix this problem in New York, it will go a long way towards a national settlement,” Acquario said. “A lot of people across the country are watching this.”

One defendant – Johnson & Johnson – agreed to an 11-hour settlement to pay the state up to $ 230 million, the attorney general’s office said on Saturday. The company has also agreed to stop manufacturing or selling opioids. State attorneys will ask state Supreme Court Judge Jerry Garguilo to dismiss Johnson & Johnson from the lawsuit on Monday.

“While no amount of money will ever make up for the thousands of people who have lost their lives or become addicted to opioids across our state or bring comfort to the countless families torn apart by this crisis, these funds will be used to prevent any future devastation, ”James mentioned.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that its agreement is not an admission of guilt or liability, and that the amount to be received by New York is the prorated amount the state would receive as part of a settlement to nationwide. The company said it ditched prescription pain relievers last year.

The case against the other defendants, however, remains scheduled for trial.

“I am committed to holding these actors accountable for the devastation they have caused in our communities,” said Laura Curran, Nassau County Director. “Nassau County is paying a painful price to repair the damage caused by these defendants, and we intend to send them a big bill.”

Allegations cite a ‘tidal wave’ of pills

The lawsuit alleges that drug manufacturers and distributors have aggressively pushed opioid pain relievers into New York City communities while downplaying their dangers and the possibility of addiction. State and county officials say they hope to hold businesses accountable for the death and misery caused by the opioid epidemic – and recover hundreds of millions of dollars for treatment, recovery and recovery. prevention.

“The claims focus on the tidal wave of pills that has flooded our community,” said attorney Hunter Shkolnik of Napoli Shkolnik, who represents Nassau County. “These defendants had an obligation to turn off the tap, not to pour gasoline into the fire.”

Conroy said county taxpayers have had to pay for police, emergency medical services, health care, social services and other costs created by opioid manufacturers and distributors.

“Evidence during the trial will also streamline future cases because of the parties’ confessions that are made in open court and the liability documents that are admitted and made public,” Conroy said.

No settlement, however, can adequately compensate some families on Long Island for the grief they have endured as a result of the opioid crisis, officials said.

“I’ve been waiting for this for years,” admitted anti-drug activist David Morrissey of Smithtown, whose son William died from chronic heroin and cocaine use in 2016. “It won’t bring my son back, but it raises the possibility that things will get better. ”

Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, a Westbury-based nonprofit that provides treatment and support to people struggling with drug addiction, said the media and previous court cases have made it clear indicated that opioid manufacturers and distributors were making a profit. on people’s health.

“We know there were nefarious strategies that led to overprescribing and marketing and thousands of deaths,” Chassman said.

The case had been delayed for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but jury selection began earlier this month. The lawsuit consolidates individual cases filed by 70 government entities from 2017, when Suffolk County filed New York’s first lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Garguilo will preside over the trial, which is expected to last at least six weeks. It will be held at the Jacob D. Fuchsberg Legal Center at Touro College to accommodate the number of attorneys and defendants involved in the case, as well as the media and members of the public.

Defendants include Teva Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allegan Finance and McKesson Corp., which did not respond to requests for comment. Cardinal Health, also accused, declined to comment.

“AmerisourceBergen is eager to share with the court the facts about our role in the supply chain and our long-standing commitment to fulfill our regulatory responsibilities and do our part to address the opioid crisis,” said the accused. AmerisourceBergen in a statement.

“As a distributor of a wide range of prescription drugs to DEA and state approved pharmacies and hospitals, AmerisourceBergen does not determine the supply of the drugs it distributes and does not impact the demand for these drugs, ”the company added.

Related cases against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and other companies are now in U.S. bankruptcy court.

“It’s not about punishment”

Jeff Reynolds, treatment and recovery expert, said the trial could bring relief to families of people who have died of overdoses or struggling with addiction. He expects the lawsuit to show that the drug addicts were not struggling with moral or personal flaws, but were victims of a global enterprise aimed at reaping as much profit as possible.

“A lot of people have benefited from it,” said Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family and Children’s Association, a Nassau organization that provides drug treatment. “It could be a healing for families to see the big picture.”

Officials and addiction experts said it was important that all money from the trial be used for treatment and prevention. New York lawmakers unanimously approved a law on June 9 that would require funds from any defendants’ settlements to be spent on treatment, prevention and education programs, rather than being deposited into the general fund.

“While no amount of money will ever make up for the thousands of people who have lost their lives or become addicted to opioids across our state, nor will it bring comfort to the countless families torn apart by this crisis, this bill ensures the funds are used to prevent any future devastation, ”James says.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is reviewing the bill, according to a spokesperson.

The lawsuit comes as Nassau and Suffolk battle a worrying spike in deadly drug overdoses that authorities attribute to the pandemic. Fatal overdoses are expected to rise 34.1% in Nassau last year and 12% in Suffolk.

Police, prosecutors and public health experts say the rise in overdose deaths is due to social isolation, financial anxieties and mental health issues caused by the pandemic.

“It’s not about punishing, it’s about cleaning up the mess that they (the opioid manufacturers and distributors) have created,” Reynolds said. “There is a generation of children who grew up in an opioid epidemic. The trauma of this will be felt for generations.”