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Cayuga County considers joining opioids lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies

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AUBURN — Cayuga County could join a multi-county lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that sell opioids.

County legislators at both Judicial and Public Safety and Government Operations Committees discussed the possibility Wednesday night, and ultimately decided to schedule a meeting with two New York City law firms spearheading the lawsuit.

Cayuga County Attorney Fred Westphal said the lawsuit was originally filed by Nassau County. Since then at least nine other New York counties have joined, hoping to recoup costs associated with drug addiction and overdoses. According to Cayuga County Coroner Adam Duckett's monthly report to the Legislature, five of 50 deaths he has investigated this year were from drug overdoses.

District Attorney Jon Budelmann said when doctors write a prescription for pain medication, a patient can easily become addicted. 

"We're left cleaning up the mess, which is young kids dying, rehab, which is $30,000 a month plus, prosecutions," he listed. "The drug trafficking drives a huge amount of the crime we see."

Government Operations Committee Chair Ryan Foley said there's also costs associated with emergency responders using Narcan, an opioid inhibitor. Foley added that should the county join and the lawsuit succeeds, there would not be a windfall of money to the county. There's a cap to how much counties can get for each statistic they add to the lawsuit, he said.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is in touch with one of the law firms to collect data, Westphal said, though it was unclear if the state would pursue anything. Collecting data, Westphal continued, is an unknown cost to the county at this point. Considering that the district attorney's office, the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office, the department of social services, the probation department, and others would all have to examine the cost effects of the opioid epidemic on their county departments going back a maximum of six years, it could be a significant commitment. 

That concerned Legislator Tucker Whitman and Legislator Aileen-McNabb Coleman. They both wanted to know whether the information departments would need to supply would examine things like heroin deals on the street, or be as wide-ranging as someone getting dental surgery and using pain killers after.

"It sounds like a lot of weeds to be digging through to try to pick up some nickels," Whitman said.

"There's a lot of unknowns, and I didn't know the parameters of which they're going to investigate this,"McNabb-Coleman added.

Legislator Andy Dennison and Tim Lattimore discussed how there could be a benefit to joining the lawsuit now because the pharmaceutical companies could decide to settle before taking it to court. 

"If eight other counties have already looked into this and agree to it, I think we should research it and get into it," Lattimore said.

Westphal said he would reach out to the law firms involved in the suit. Legislators hope they will present at the next Government Operations Committee meeting in October.

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


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