Westchester County joins a growing list of states and municipalities suing the manufacturers and distributors of highly-addictive opioid medications, according to LoHud.com. The medication, once falsely marketed as a long-term solution for chronic pain, has ensnared communities across the nation as users became addicted and graduated to cheaper drugs, such as heroin, or more powerful – but legal – drugs, such as fentanyl. According to the New York State Department of Health, 143 Westchester and Rockland residents died of an opioid overdose in 2016 – an increase from 110 in just one year. Importantly, this estimate includes legal opioid-based drugs as well as illegal opioid drugs, such as heroin.
The Westchester lawsuit alleges that the makers of opioid-based medications, such as Percocet, Vicodin, and Oxycontin, intentionally misled the public about the dangers of the drugs, including the addictive potential. The makers and distributors of these drugs marketed the medication as a safe, long-term solution to chronic pain, with the knowledge that addiction and dependency were likely to follow for Americans prescribed these drugs. This reckless behavior is the center of Westchester County’s lawsuit against drug companies.
The County states that the aggressive and intentionally misleading marketing has led to an increase in police and healthcare budgets for the city. In addition to recouping these expenses, the County is also seeking damages related to increasing public awareness concerning the harms of opioid medications and Narcan treatment, an opioid-antagonist medication which can stop a potentially deadly heroin or fentanyl overdose if administered quickly enough.
According to Westchester County Attorney John Nonna, “Westchester County, like many local governments, has expended resources and suffered financial loss addressing the opioid crisis affecting our entire community. We believe that the manufacturers, markets, and promoters of these drugs have misled us as to the addictive power of these drugs in their negligent marketing and misleading promotion of them. They should, and will be, held accountable for this conduct.” Nonna further stated that the cost of this horrific crisis should not be paid by the taxpaying residents of Westchester County.
Westchester joins more than 250 counties, cities, municipalities, and states across the United States suing the pharmaceutical companies. Of New York’s 62 counties, 60 have reserved the right to sue for the harm and injuries caused by opioid-based medications.
The rate of opioid-based prescriptions has declined in recent years, especially in Westchester and Rockland Counties. Peaking in 2011, the United States averaged 81 prescriptions per 100 people. In 2016, the number had declined to 35 and 34.6 prescriptions per 100 people in Westchester and Rockland counties, respectively. Public health advocates hoped to cut off the supply of the dangerous drugs to the public and avoid an epidemic. Sadly, the reduction in prescriptions has not led to a reduction in deaths as New Yorkers, hooked on opioid medications, just moved to street drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl – both cheaper, deadlier and brought into the country illegally at an increasing rate every year.