Warren County supervisors are considering joining in litigation that goes after the makers of opioid drugs for the addiction crisis that has devastated communities around the region.
The county board’s Finance Committee heard a pitch Tuesday from Saratoga Springs lawyer Donald Boyajian, who is affiliated with a national law firm pursuing lawsuits against manufacturers of addictive prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, Percocet and Fentanyl.
The lawsuits go after the companies for what Boyajian called “concerted, aggressive, fraudulent marketing schemes” that resulted in thousands of addicts who turned to heroin when the painkiller pills become less effective for them over time.
The drugs were designed to be used on a short-term basis, but the manufacturers convinced doctors to prescribe them for long-term pain and for dental and sports injuries, including for children.
“You have kids using these to manage pain. It’s a huge, huge problem,” Boyajian said.
If the lawsuit is successful, counties can recoup costs for police, treatment and social services spending that stemmed from the opioid problem, he explained. The counties won’t pay any up-front fees or court costs, as lawyers will collect only if they succeed in getting a settlement or verdict. The only effort required of local officials would be to compile and detail their opioid-related costs, Boyajian explained.
Nationally, it has been estimated the addiction crisis has cost governments $80 billion per year, while the drug makers bring in $8 billion annually in profits on opioids, according to Boyajian.
Boyajian said the law firm he is working with, Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, is representing 15 or so counties, with Fulton County signing on most recently, as well as municipalities around the country. Other New York counties that have signed on include Schenectady, St. Lawrence and numerous counties around New York City.
Boyajian said seven opioid makers as well, as doctors that were involved in the marketing, have been the target of the litigation. The Simmons firm has already sued and won a $75 million settlement on behalf of opioid users, Boyajian added.
The Warren County Finance Committee held off Tuesday on committing to the lawsuit after it learned a Washington County lawyer is also pitching counties on behalf of another national law firm. Supervisors want to look into the issue further, although they seemed interested in joining litigation against the drug makers.
“It looks like a good start to go after these people,” said Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Doug Beaty.
Queensbury Supervisor John Strough said he had been contacted by Hudson Falls lawyer William Nikas, who is representing a separate firm that is also targeting the drug makers. Nikas sought a time to discuss the issue with Warren County leaders, and told Strough he is making presentations to supervisors in Washington and Saratoga counties as well.
Boyajian, who is not the regional congressional candidate by the same name, urged supervisors to “do your own due diligence,” but said the other firm’s lawsuit is separate from the one his firm is pursuing, which was filed in state Supreme Court in Suffolk County.
“We think the firm I’m working with is much more well-equipped to be at the bargaining table with these pharmaceutical companies,” Boyajian said.