ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. -- In his continuing fight against the opioid epidemic raging across Rockland County and the country, Rockland County Executive Ed Day announced Tuesday that the county is taking legal action against pharmaceutical companies that made and sold prescription opioids that contributed to the epidemic.
"This opioid epidemic is exacting a huge toll on Rockland County both in terms of lives lost and the cost of medical and psychological care to treat the victims," he said.
So far this year, there have been 16 drug-related deaths in Rockland County, all but one involving opioids, according to Day.
Day submitted a resolution to the Rockland County Legislature Tuesday to authorize representation by the New York City law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy, a leader in the field of opioid litigation.
The legislature is being asked to authorize a contract that may exceed $100,000 to begin the legal process.
"Not a cent of this cost will come from the pockets of our Rockland taxpayers," Day said. "This cost will be paid from any settlement they reach on our behalf if there is one. If not, we don't have to pay."
SHC is representing numerous counties in New York, including Suffolk, Orange, Erie, and Broome as well as governments and institutions across the nation.
The law firm has a long history with this type of litigation. They started in 2003 with legal action against Purdue Pharma LLP and Abbott Laboratories, Inc., for damages suffered by more than 5,000 clients prescribed the opioid OxyContin.
"We want accountability. We want justice. That is why we are using the legal system to bring this deadly epidemic back to the corporations that started it – the pharmaceutical companies," he said. "They need to take responsibility."
A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid and heroin abuse nationwide is $78.5 billion annually, with a quarter of that amount paid by government programs funded by the taxpayer.
Along with the resolution, Day submitted letters of support for the legal action from District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert and Commissioner of Mental Health Michael Leitzes.
"I fully support this litigation and commend our county executive for this initiative. The pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and distribute these opioid analgesics are simply legalized drug dealers that deliberately manipulated medical providers for the purpose of maximizing profits," said Zugibe. "Their reprehensible conduct has cost the lives of thousands of Americans and destroyed the lives of many more. It is unfortunate that criminal penalties aren't available to address their conduct."
Rockland County has also taken the battle into the community by offering the opioid antidote Narcan to residents in case they ever need to administer it to someone suffering an overdose.
Day will be at the Fire Training Center Wednesday where 100 county employees will learn how to administer Narcan.
"We will fight on every front to save lives," he said.
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