QUEENSBURY — The opioid addiction problem in Warren County is officially a “public nuisance.”
The county Board of Supervisors declared opioid abuse a public nuisance on Friday, a declaration that the board was advised can help it in its ongoing lawsuit against the drug companies whose prescription drugs were blamed for fueling painkiller and heroin addiction.
Some supervisors questioned the need for the legislation as well as its wording. County Attorney Mary Kissane said the resolution, technically the adoption of a local law dubbed the “Municipal opioid cost recovery and public nuisance legislation,” was recommended by the law firm that filed a lawsuit against drug companies on the county’s behalf last spring.
She said the law was needed so the county can legally seek compensation for the costs it incurred when county government agencies dealt with opioid abuse problems. That includes emergency medical response, social services programs, criminal justice costs and addiction rehabilitation costs.
“This crisis has devastated families, wreaked havoc on our economy and produced a generation of narcotic dependence,” the law states.
Declaring a “public nuisance” will allow the county to tabulate the costs to seek as reimbursement for damages in its lawsuit against drugmakers.
Johnsburg Supervisor Andrea Hogan questioned some of the language in the legislation, asking about who would determine whether there was “wrongful conduct” designated in the law, while Stony Creek Supervisor Frank Thomas also took issue with parts of the law. Both voted against the law, the only two of 19 supervisors present for the meeting to vote against it.
Municipalities around the country have filed lawsuits against the companies that manufactured and marketed opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin, hydrocodone and oxycodone, blaming them for misleading the public about the addictiveness of the drugs. As many as 80 percent of the heroin users in the country started opioid use with pain pills, according to the county law.
The lawsuit claims there was “deceptive” marketing that ignored reports of deaths and addiction as the number of opioid drug prescriptions rose by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2009, while use of over-the-counter medication declined.
Warren County’s 260-page lawsuit names Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Cephalon Inc. and a number of other drugmakers, and seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
Kissane said the county’s lawsuit remains pending in state Supreme Court, with litigation filed by other counties in New York before Warren County’s taking precedence on the court calendar.