Simmons Hanly Conroy files lawsuits for New York's Dutchess, Seneca and Sullivan counties against drug companies over opioid epidemic and addiction
Firm currently represents seven New York counties in similar lawsuits, with more opioids litigation expected in the state and nationally
NEW YORK – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, has filed separate lawsuits on behalf of New York’s Dutchess, Seneca and Sullivan counties against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opium-like painkillers (opioids) that has led to a drug epidemic in the counties.
Dutchess, Seneca and Sullivan are the latest New York counties to go to court over the opioid epidemic. The lawsuits follow pending, ongoing actions filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of Suffolk County, Broome and Erie and Orange counties in New York during the past year.
In the complaints filed yesterday for Dutchess and today for Seneca and Sullivan counties in the New York Supreme Court, the counties seek relief including compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars they spend 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.
“Dutchess, Seneca and Sullivan are the latest counties in New York to insist that opioid manufacturers and others must be held responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic that has resulted in great losses and injury to the counties and to their residents,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul Hanly, lead counsel for Dutchess, Seneca, Sullivan and the other New York counties in these cases. “The drug companies and other defendants in these cases are directly responsible for the manufacture, promotion and marketing of opioids that has omitted critical, long-accepted information about the drugs’ addictive qualities and other risks associated with their prolonged use.”
According to the complaint for Dutchess County, the county in 2014 had 805 opioid-related emergency department admissions, a 45 percent increase since 2010, and 1,112 inpatient hospital admissions for the same reason. From 2003 through 2014, 256 residents died from opioids. Dutchess County had the highest rate of opioid-related overdose fatalities among its residents from 2009-2013 in counties with 20 or more deaths, at 5.5 per 100,000 people. In 2015, accidental poisoning, mainly due to prescription opioids, was the leading cause of unintentional death in New York State, according to a report from the National Safety Council. Located in south-eastern New York, Dutchess has a population of about 297,488, according to the 2010 census.
The New York State Department of Health recorded 59 opioid-related emergency department admissions in Seneca County in 2014, which represented an increase of 47.5 percent since 2010, according to the complaint for Seneca County. In addition, the number of opioid-related inpatient hospital admissions in Seneca County in 2014 was 74, which was a 32.1 percent increase over the 2010-2014 time period. Located in the western part of the state, Seneca has a population estimated at 34,777 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The complaint for Sullivan County points out that the county had 234 opioid-related emergency department admissions in 2016, also according to the state’s health department. That number represents the highest rate per 100,000 residents of all counties in New York and a 134 percent increase since 2010. There were 11 deaths reported in 2015 in Sullivan County from overdoses involving opioid pain relievers. With an estimated 2016 population of 74,801, Sullivan County sits in the southeast portion of the state.
The lawsuits for the counties also point to criminal activity, including murder and drug-trafficking offenses, as well as costs the counties have incurred and continue to incur related to opioid addiction and abuse, such as those covering health care, criminal justice and victimization, social aspects and lost productivity.
The lawsuits allege deceptive acts and practices, false advertising, public nuisance, violation of New York Social Services laws, fraud and unjust enrichment against defendants 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. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; as well as physicians Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster, who allegedly were instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally and in Seneca and Sullivan counties.
Commonly known by brand names including OxyContin and Percocet, opioids are considered an appropriate treatment for certain types of short-term pain and for palliative end-of-life care. Substantial evidence exists that opioid drugs are ineffective to treat chronic pain and actually worsen patients’ health. In addition, opioids are derived from or possess properties similar to opium and heroin and are highly addictive and dangerous, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates them as controlled substances.
The lawsuits allege 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 promotion and marketing campaign. Beginning in the late 1990s, the campaign remained unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications. Around 2006, it became more aggressive and is ongoing. Specifically, the complaints detail 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 these measures were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.
The National Institutes of Health also identifies drug companies’ “aggressive marketing” as a major contributor to the nation’s opioid abuse problem. Despite a lack of scientific evidence that supports the use of opioids for long-term pain management, since 1999, the amount of prescribed opioids in the United States has nearly quadrupled to 254 million prescriptions in 2010 – enough to medicate every U.S. adult around the clock for a month. In 2012, opioids generated $8 billion in revenue for drug companies.
Simmons Hanly Conroy shareholders Paul Hanly and Jayne Conroy have held court-appointed leadership roles of national scope in litigation against pharmaceutical companies brought by consumers harmed by dangerous drugs. In 2006, Hanly and Conroy successfully resolved litigation against Purdue Pharma LLP and Abbot Laboratories, Inc., alleging that 5,000 clients’ addictions to OxyContin was a result of the manufacturer’s fraudulent marketing campaign that claimed the drug was not as addictive as alternative drugs.
About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC
Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms. Primary areas of litigation include asbestos and mesothelioma, pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental, sexual abuse litigation and personal injury. The firm’s attorneys have been appointed to leadership in numerous national multidistrict litigations, including Vioxx, Toyota Unintended Acceleration, the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Volkswagen Emission Scandel and DePuy Pinnacle. The firm also represents small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving business litigation. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton, Ill. Read more at www.simmonsfirm.com.