Ulster County Joins the Fight against Manufacturers of Prescription Opioid Painkillers

Ulster County, NY  – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ulster County, New York, against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the County and throughout the nation.

The County seeks relief in the complaint that includes compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars it spends each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.

“Ulster County has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of opioid abuse:  families ruined, lives destroyed and communities in mourning,” said Ulster County Executive Mike Hein.  “The time has come that large drug companies be held accountable for their actions, just like we did with Big Tobacco.  Their unwillingness to recognize science and continuously place profits above social responsibility, all while parents and children are suffering as a direct result of their greed, this must end.  The large pharmaceutical companies have an enormous responsibility to bear and this lawsuit is the first step to rebuilding our communities and seeking justice for everyone who has been victimized.”

The defendants in the lawsuit are: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Insys Therapeutics, Inc.; Dr. Perry Fine; Dr. Scott Fishman; and Dr. Lynn Webster.

“Ulster County joins more than a dozen other counties in New York to conclude that drug companies must be held responsible for their fraudulent and deceptive role in causing the worst drug epidemic the country has ever seen,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul J. Hanly, Jr., lead counsel for the County in this case. “We are proud to stand with county representatives as they seek justice for their residents.”

Today’s filing follows similar action taken by Simmons on behalf of New York City and 13 other counties in New York. The lawsuits, which were filed in each county’s state supreme court, have been consolidated in Suffolk County Supreme Court and are being heard by State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo. Hanly was appointed in July 2017 as co-lead counsel overseeing the consolidated New York State opioid litigation.

According to the Ulster County Department of Health Medical Examiner’s Office, opioids contributed to 268 deaths in the County between 2003 and 2017. Of those 268 deaths, 115 were between 2015 and 2017, a significant increase in recent years. Between 2015 and 2017, more people died from opioid-related deaths than from motor vehicle accidents. According to the complaint, there were 950 Ulster County residents admitted into chemical dependence treatment programs in 2016. Additionally, in 2017, officials preliminarily reported 201 naloxone administration events, though actual numbers of administration events may be higher.

Apart from the toll on human life, the crisis has financially strained the services the county provides its residents and employees. Human services, social services, court services, law enforcement services, the office of the coroner/medical examiner and health services, including hospital, emergency and ambulatory services, have all been severely impacted by the crisis. For example, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ egregious conduct, the county has paid, and continues to pay, millions of dollars for health care costs stemming from prescription opioid dependency. These costs include unnecessary and excessive opioid prescriptions, substance abuse treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, and inpatient hospital services, among others. The defendants’ conduct also caused the county to incur substantial economic, administrative and social costs relating to opioid addiction and abuse, including criminal justice costs, victimization costs, child protective services costs, lost productivity costs, and education and prevention program costs, among others.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was allegedly perpetrated through a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive promotion and marketing campaign – including unbranded messaging to evade extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications. These communications, which began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006 and continue today. Specifically, the complaint details how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other “educational” materials, conducting sales visits to doctors, and supporting a network of professional societies and advocacy groups – all of which were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.

The Ulster County lawsuit follows similar, ongoing action in New York filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of New York City and the counties of Broome, Dutchess, Erie, Greene, Monroe, Orange, Oswego, Schenectady, Seneca, Suffolk, Sullivan, St. Lawrence and Wyoming. Simmons has filed similar litigation on behalf of more than 150 other counties and municipalities in Connecticut, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.  In January 2018, Paul J. Hanly, Jr. was appointed co-lead counsel of the multidistrict opioid litigation to oversee all federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioids. Those cases are being heard in federal court in Ohio.