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County Authorized to Pursue Opioid Lawsuit

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County Authorized to Pursue Opioid Lawsuit

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Legislature, by a vote of 12-2 (Legislators Shawna Black and Dooley Kiefer voted no), authorized County Attorney Jonathan Wood to commence civil litigation against opioid manufacturers and others who have harmed the County by promoting the abuse of opioids, and to retain counsel to represent the County in such litigation. Tompkins County will join many other New York Counties in pursuing legal action against opioid manufacturers and others that have promoted the abuse of opioids.

The resolution notes that opioid manufacturers, distributors and promoters have been responsible for an opioid epidemic that has harmed the citizens of Tompkins County and financially damaged the County and its taxpayers, and that it is appropriate that the County should recover damages from those parties that have contributed and continue to contribute to County costs in the form of increased social servicing, policing, treatment, incarceration, and other expenditures.

Government Operations Committee Chair Dan Klein stated that the measure authorizes the County to join the lawsuit and does not require the County to put out any money. County Attorney Jonathan Wood said there would be no cost, other than the possible cost of gathering data. Some stated that the data-gathering responsibility for departments could be significant; Legislator Anna Kelles said the data collection and collaboration among departments in documenting the impact of the opioid crisis will be an important benefit. Legislator Black said she had initially supported joining the lawsuit, but after further consideration and study has deep concern about the amount of time it would take for County employees to gather the data, and that’s why she voted no.

Much discussion focused on a proposed wording change that would have changed language from “promoting abuse of opioids” to “over-prescription and mis-prescription of opioids,” an amendment that failed by a 3-11 margin. Legislator Kiefer said that, while she supports joining the lawsuit, her vote against related to the wording involved.

Speaking in support, Legislator Rich John stated, “We are spending a significant amount of money to address the problems caused by these opioid manufacturers…It’s important that this crisis not be hidden. Bringing a lawsuit may bring some attention to that, and sends a clear message that Tompkins County joins other counties in saying this is not acceptable.”