HUDSON — The Columbia County Committee on Health and Human Services pushed forward a resolution to join a statewide lawsuit against certain pharmaceutical companies accusing the companies of falsely advertising such drugs as safe and nonaddictive.
Greene County will also move forward this month to enter into a class action lawsuit against certain pharmaceutical companies for the same reasons.
The law firm Simmons, Hanly and Conroy, of Illinois, asked Columbia County in June to join them in suing for recompense for services the county has provided as a result of the nationwide opioid and heroin epidemic.
The law firm promised that it will pay for all the legal costs.
“We have talked about this issue at great length. The opioid epidemic is a scourge that affects everyone regardless of background or age,” said Fourth Ward Supervisor William Hughes Jr. “I think all 62 New York counties should join us in the lawsuit.”
Already several counties in the area have joined the lawsuit including Albany and Schenectady, and most recently Dutchess County.
Data provided by the Healthcare Consortium showed there were six recorded opioid-related deaths in Columbia County and eight in Greene County in 2015.
According to the data, 194 people received some kind of treatment for a chemical dependence crisis in Columbia County in 2015; Greene County saw 144 people treated that same year.
“We will be going forward with a class action lawsuit at the recommendation of our attorney,” said Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden. “It will be on our agenda this month. After that we will enter into a contract.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking to recoup money counties have spent on services such as mental health programs, addiction programs, public defenders and district attorneys, probation services and jail expenses.
The firm successfully sued 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.
The lawsuit also names several other companies including Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc., as well as four physicians who were paid to appear in advertisements for opioids: Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster.
The committee also approved utilizing the resources of Chatham-based Columbia Pathways to Recovery, Inc., a local non-profit that runs solely on the work of volunteers, that helps people connect with services and provides educational events and training sessions on narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, throughout the county.
The nonprofit, which only obtained it 501(c)(3) status this year, asked the committee to help expand their services and help them continue to operate a help line they run.
The group works with other providers in the area including Project Safe Point, Twin County Recovery Services, Inc., The Healthcare Consortium, Chatham Cares 4 U and several county agencies already, but want a help center and an expanded help line through the county, which would include a $10,000 so the group can become compliant with HIPPA law.
“We went through the services this county has for people who are going through crisis or are addicted to substances and we came up with one question — who do you call?” Hughes said. “A dedicated phone line is critical in our fight against opioid abuse.”
The committee agreed to partner with the group, but without any financial commitment for the time being until the county controller can review the group’s finances.
“I think this could be largely and mutually beneficial,” said Kinderhook Town Supervisor Patrick Grattan, chairman of the committee. “I can support this.”
The committee asked Public Health Director John Mabb his thoughts on the request.
“A 24-hour hotline is critical, absolutely critical and we did not have one; CPR provided that service on their own,” Mabb said.