Schenectady County and the city of Saratoga Springs are both moving forward with legal actions against large drug manufacturers.
The Schenectady County Legislature has authorized the county to join a lawsuit charging with makers of generic prescription drugs are colluding to fix prices, while Saratoga Springs is bringing a lawsuit arguing that the national opioid epidemic has cost it millions of dollars.
Last Tuesday, the Schenectady County Legislature authorized entering an agreement with Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, a New York City law firm already working on a price-fixing case with the New York State Association of Counties and other counties.
The vote was 9-1, with Legislator Brian McGarry, R-Rotterdam, casting the only vote against entering the lawsuit, calling it "speculative," and noting that Napoli Shkolnick is involved in a number of cases nationally against drug companies. "As it is, county employees enjoy wildly discounted prices," he said.
But Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said that the federal government and more than 40 state attorney generals are investigating whether drug companies collude. "If the charges are confirmed...the county stands to make a significant recovery," he said.
At issue is whether the county is paying a fair price for prescription drugs for its employees and their family members covered by county health insurance. Legislative committees voted last week to recommend joining the lawsuit.
Like many New York counties, Schenectady self-insures for employee drug coverage, meaning it pays for employee prescription drugs directly from the county treasury. In 2018, County Attorney Chris Gardner said the county spent $4,585,149 on prescription drugs, covering about 2,780 people -- employees, their families and some retirees -- in an average month.
He said $942,826 of drug spending last year was on generics, and this year through May the county has already spent more than $482,000 on generics -- and the average cost per generic prescription is up 16 percent.
Gardner said it's impossible at this point to estimate how much the county may be able to recover, but there will be no cost to the county. Napoli Shkolnick is working for a share of any settlement or trial verdict.
On May 20, state attorneys general filed a federal lawsuit in Connecticut against 21 drug companies, involving 116 different generic drugs. New York is one of the states participating in that lawsuit.
Separately, three New York counties are already working with Napoli Shkolnik on a lawsuit likely to be heard in federal court in eastern Pennsylvania, and the state Association of Counties last month circulated a memo suggesting other counties consider joining the effort.
In a different lawsuit filed in 2017 and still pending, Schenectady County joined with other counties seeking reimbursement from drug companies for costs incurred due to the current opioid abuse epidemic, arguing they misrepresented the safety of synthetic opioids like OxyContin.
Last Monday, the city of Saratoga Springs filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Ballston Spa against Purdue Pharma and dozens of other drug manufacturers, associated corporate entities and retail drug distributors. The city is seeking reimbursement for costs incurred from the opioid epidemic. The city is also being represented by Napoli Shkolnick.
"Plaintiff has incurred and continues to incur costs related to opioid addiction and abuse, including, but not limited to, health care costs, criminal justice and victimization costs, social costs and lost productivity costs," the lawsuit states. "Defendants misrepresentations regarding the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use proximately caused injury to plaintiff and its residents."
Saratoga County last year filed its own lawsuit, charging the county has incurred excessive medical, social services and law enforcement costs from dealing with opioid addiction cases.
The drug companies have generally denied wrongdoing.