District Attorney Hoovler Urges Orange County to Consider Lawsuit Against Opiate Manufacturers

April 15, 2017

Asks County Executive and Chair of County
Legislature to Review “Feasibility” of Lawsuit

Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler, in a letter dated Friday, April 7, 2017, requested that Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus and L. Stephen Brescia, the Chair of the Orange County Legislature, consider the “feasibility” of filing a lawsuit against several manufacturers of opiate pain medication. The lawsuit would allege that those manufacturers and their agents used deceptive practices in marketing opiate painkillers, resulting in significant over-prescription of opiates, and leading to the addiction of numerous Orange County residents, a number of overdose deaths, and significant costs to the County to combat the consequences of that over-prescription.

Orange County and much of the United States is in the midst of an opiate “epidemic.” That crisis has led to numerous deaths in Orange County. In 2014, Orange County had a rate of overdose deaths three times that of several other upstate New York counties. In addition, as of a few weeks ago, the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office reported to the District Attorney’s staff that 65 County residents had died of opiate-related overdoses in 2016, with an additional ten cases from that year still waiting the results of toxicology. The Port Jervis area saw four overdoses in just the past week. And aside from the death toll, the County has had to pay increased amounts to care for those addicted and their families, to defray increased medical costs resulting from those addictions, and to support additional law enforcement efforts to deal with an ever-expanding illegal market in prescription opiates and heroin.

As a result of the opiate “epidemic,” a number of counties and municipalities in New York and around the country have filed or contemplated filing lawsuits against the manufacturers of opiate pain medication, alleging that those companies engaged in deceptive practices in marketing that medication. So far in New York State, Nassau, Suffolk, Erie, and Broome Counties have already filed lawsuits, and Schenectady County is considering it. Similar lawsuits have been filed by several counties in West Virginia; by Orange County, California; by Chicago, Illinois; and by Everett, Washington, among others.

“It’s no secret that this County and most of the United States are in the midst of an opiate ‘epidemic,’ ” said District Attorney Hoovler, “involving thousands of people being addicted to prescription opiates and often, as a later result, to heroin. Many sources suggest that the opiate crisis is a result of aggressive and misleading advertising and marketing that the opiate manufacturers used in order to create a larger market for their products. Indeed, the conduct of the opiate manufacturers rivals that of the tobacco companies, which resulted in past decades in large recoveries in lawsuits brought by individuals and government entities against those companies. I think we owe it to our citizens to join in this litigation, in an effort to protect against future cases of addiction and to recoup some of the significant funds that the County has expended in combating the opioid epidemic.”

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