Saratoga County

Settlement funds from pharma cases begin to come in for counties to fight opioid crisis

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An attorney representing Saratoga County as part of a statewide legal battle against the pharmaceutical industry for its role in fueling the opioid epidemic said the money that’s starting to pour into jurisdictions by way of settlements is always important.

But Napoli Shkolnik partner Hunter Shkolnik said it is also significant that the settlements include strict guidelines as to the manner any defendant markets and sells opioids in the future.

Last week, Saratoga County — where more than 90 deadly overdoses were reported over the last two years — agreed to settle claims against the company Allergan — one of the state’s biggest targets for its involvement in the epidemic — for $335,915.

The $200 million settlement with the Botox manufacturer will be distributed to counties throughout the state for underwriting prevention, treatment, and recovery programs to combat the opioid crisis.

“This settlement financially provides what we think is appropriate for this defendant to reach resolution within Saratoga County, as well as all the rest without resulting in a bankruptcy, which is always a possibility,” Shkolnik said. “More importantly, the injunctive relief and the restrictions on the marketing of opioids are some of the most stringent that have ever been implemented, and that’s going to help the future.”

The statewide case against Allergan was argued jointly in New York State Supreme Court on Long Island by the state and Nassau and Suffolk counties. The trial began in June with more than a dozen defendants and 100 lawyers, according to Shkolnik.

The case against Allergan was settled in December, after the plaintiffs presented their case, and before Allergan’s lawyers were set to present theirs.

The lawsuit alleges Allergan contributed to the opioid epidemic by falsely promoting prescription opioids it manufactured and sold, and falsely promoting the increased use of opioids directly and through various “front groups.”

The suit said the pharmaceutical company also failed to implement measures to prevent diversion of prescription opioids, all of which contributed to a public health crisis.

If all recovery and incentive scenarios built into the agreement are met, the settlement would allow Saratoga County to recover $365,915.

The settlement means Saratoga County is set to receive a total of more than $5 million for multiple legal battles involving the opioid epidemic.

Previously, Saratoga County settled claims against Johnson & Johnson and the “Big 3” distributors (McKesson, CardinalHealth, and AmerisourceBergen) for damages totaling $4.7 million, which is expected to be paid over 10 years, county officials said. The first settlement payments from Johnson & Johnson and the Big 3 are scheduled for February, in the amount of $778,827.

According to data from Saratoga County’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the county had 46 fatal overdoses in 2021, specifically 29 men and 17 women from as young as 19 to 61.

The county had 47 total fatal overdoses in 2020, and 28 in 2019.

Michael S. Prezioso, county commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said the county has seen an increase in overdoses, including an uptick in fatal ones, during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the commissioner added that other forms of overdoses.

“As many other counties had, we had been looking at increased issues with addictions over time,” he said. “Not to say that we didn’t continue to see issues related to alcohol and things such as methamphetamines. But certainly with opioids,  it’s been a high-profile problem.”

In the meantime, county officials are still determining how they will spend the settlement money.

Generally, it can be used for opioid use disorder and any co-occurring substance use disorder or mental health conditions through evidence-based, evidence-formed or promising programs or strategies.

Prezioso said officials will continue to have discussions involving health care providers and “the folks that we work with, across the spectrum of service providers.”

“We’re going to be involving our elected officials in that process, particularly the chair of the Health and Social Services Committee for the county,” he said. “We’ve already been in discussions with the Prevention Council of Saratoga County and Saratoga Hospital, about a model that we can follow in the application of those funds.

In addition, the county will solicit input from a group of about 25 to 30 human service providers that’s been meeting monthly for about the past six years.

“What we’re looking to do is develop a list of menu options that are consistent with the restrictions placed on the way those funds are expended, and put together a list of of items for review and prioritization and then we hope to step things off as far as providing more assistance to the people who need it,” Prezioso said.

The commissioner noted there’s an initial consensus that a public education campaign around the issue should be developed.

“There is need for professional development among prescribers of opiates,” he said. “I think we need to continue to rely on evidence-based prevention practices and evidence-based treatment practices, including the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addictions.”

In a statement this week, Schenectady County said it is expected to receive more than $4.1 million after entering settlement agreements with Allergan, McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson.

Schenectady County got $243,518 in its recent settlement with Allergan, a county spokesman said.

Schenectady County also has claims pending against multiple additional defendants and anticipates a similar outcome in those cases, according to the statement.

“The Schenectady County Attorney’s Office has worked extensively with our outside counsel, Simmons, Hanley and Conroy, to ensure these settlement agreements will provide the best outcome for the County while incurring the least possible cost,” Schenectady County Attorney Christopher H. Gardner said in the release.

Schenectady County joined many governmental jurisdictions across the U.S. in June 2017 when legal action commenced  against numerous pharmaceutical companies, distributors, and individuals, alleging that their actions resulted in the opioid epidemic.

The county has reached agreements with Allergan, McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson and Johnson and expects to receive $4,146,191 from the settlements.

“I was proud that Schenectady County acted to protect our community,” said Anthony Jasenski Sr., chairman of the County Legislature in the statement. “Too many of our friends, families and neighbors have been devastated by the proliferation of opioids. While this money will not bring back the lives that have been lost, it will be used to help those who have been negatively affected and to prevent future lives from being similarly devastated.”

Schenectady County officials say three-quarters of the money must be spent on specific opioid-related expenses — to help those that have been affected and for prevention services.

“While awaiting disbursements of the funds, Schenectady county is working with our public health professionals, addiction specialists, not-for-profits and other county departments to create a comprehensive plan that best leverages these resources to help affected residents and address the complex issues created by the opioid epidemic while adhering to the terms of the settlement,” said Erin Roberts, the county’s Director of Public Communications.

According to County Legislator Richard Patierne, chair of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee, monies for rehabilitation and prevention services will help families get the help they need.

“It is imperative that the County act to help put lives back together — and prevent others from having their lives ruined,” Patierne said in the statement. “The funding from these companies will ensure that the County is in a position to help our community recover from the opioid epidemic.”

Elsewhere in the region, in November, the Amsterdam Common Council authorized signing a pair of state-negotiated settlement agreements with Johnson & Johnson and a group of opioid distributors. Under the combined agreements, the city will receive up to $89,000 in settlement funds.

The Montgomery County Legislature signed approved settlement agreements with Johnson & Johnson in August and the opioid distributor group in September. Under the combined agreements, the county will receive at least $786,500 and up to $1.45 million in settlement funds.

Reporters Ashley Onyon and Shenandoah Briere contributed to this report. 

Categories: News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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