Wyoming County Joins the Fight against Manufacturers of Prescription Opioid Painkillers

Wyoming 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 Wyoming County 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.

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. Russell Portenoy; Dr. Perry Fine; Dr. Scott Fishman; and Dr. Lynn Webster.

Today’s filing follows similar action taken by Simmons on behalf of nine 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 heard by State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo.

“Wyoming County is the latest to join a groundswell of New York counties to hold drug companies and physicians responsible for their fraudulent and deceptive role in causing the nation’s drug epidemic,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul J. Hanly, Jr., lead counsel for the county in this case. “This crisis wasn’t created overnight. Together with county leaders, we will work to hold the defendants accountable for their actions and get justice of the residents of Wyoming County.”

“Wyoming County, like many others across the state, is facing a serious drug  epidemic,” said  James Wujcik, Wyoming County Attorney. “The County continues to suffer unimaginable loss due to the defendants’ recklessness and negligence about the long-term effects of opioid use. We must hold pharmaceutical companies and physicians responsible for misleading the public. They have targeted our residents and now we seek justice for the damages caused by their reckless behavior.”

According to the complaint, at least 17 Wyoming County residents died from opioid-related overdose fatalities between 2003 and 2014.  In 2014 alone, there were 62 opioid-related emergency department admissions in Wyoming County, a 47.6 percent increase since 2010, and 91 inpatient hospital admissions for the same reason.  More than 131 Wyoming County residents were admitted to chemical dependence treatment programs in 2015 with even more admitted in 2016.

Apart from the toll on human life, the crisis has financially strained the services the County provide 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 civil conspiracy involving a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive (unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications) promotion and marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006, and is ongoing. 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 Wyoming County lawsuit follows similar, ongoing action in New York filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of counties across the state. In addition to Wyoming County, Simmons has also filed similar lawsuits in Broome, Dutchess, Erie, Orange, Oswego, Schenectady, Seneca, Suffolk and Sullivan counties.