AUBURN — The Cayuga County Legislature is still on the fence about joining a statewide lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that produce opioid medications

Three New York City law firms met with the body's Government Operations Committee in executive session earlier this month, and while the committee majority had chosen to recommend a law firm and proceed with the litigation to the full Legislature, committee members have since backtracked. 

Ways and Means Committee Chair Aileen McNabb-Coleman presented an overview before the Legislature and Cayuga County high school seniors attending Student Government Day Tuesday morning. She explained that some of the law firms are targeting manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and doctors, while others are focusing solely on the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medications.

Staff, she added, would have to collect specific data on how the issue has impacted the county financially. The time needed to do that, she said, is a concern. But the county would not be responsible for any financial obligation should it join, including attorney's fees. Government Operations Committee Chair Ryan Foley said the law firms estimated that litigation could take between two and six years.

Legislator Tucker Whitman said while Cayuga County has a heroin problem, he was not sure that would translate with this lawsuit dealing with opioid prescriptions. 

"I think we're going to be disappointed in spending the next two to six years dragging ourselves through this lawsuit," he said. "I think we're going to regret it, and all we're going to do is make a bunch of attorneys rich in the meantime."

Judicial and Public Safety Chair Patrick Mahunik disagreed, and said the point of the lawsuit is about sending a message. 

"I don't care if we see a penny out of this lawsuit, because that's not what this is about," he said. "It's about correcting the problem and sending message and putting those people on notice that are writing these prescriptions on a whim."

Legislator Andy Dennison and Tim Lattimore supported litigation, too, pointing to the spike in drug overdose deaths in Cayuga County recently. Dennison said with the potential for the lawsuit to last years, the problem will likely continue.

Despite his skepticism, Whitman said the only way he would support the lawsuit is if any monies awarded to the county was put back into rehabilitation expenses for addicts and "not on renovating the county office building." Many other legislators agreed.

The Legislature did not vote on whether to join the lawsuit, but rather opted to contact the three law firms again to present in executive session at November's full meeting.

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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County Government Reporter