Suffolk County’s suit against Big Pharm is moving forward.

Decision Coming Soon

Suffolk County officials expect a judge overseeing their lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers to rule on whether the legal action should be dismissed within the next two months.

The county is the lead municipality in the case. It’s suing for compensation to remedy the public safety threat that has been created by the addictive nature of the drugs. The companies misrepresented the drugs’ risks of addiction, the county argues.

But a motion by attorneys for the main defendants in the case, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, contends the company can’t be held liable for selling the narcotic because it is approved by the Federal Drug Administration. They wanted to wait until the FDA concluded a study of opioids.

Judge Jerry Garguilo recently ruled in favor of the county that awaiting the FDA’s investigation of the benefits and risks of opioids would delay the county’s lawsuit. In Garguilo’s March 14 order, he states there is “no compelling reason to impose a stay of the proceedings.”

Garguilo stated he recognizes the FDA is generally responsible for ensuring drugs are “safe and effective,” but the court will examine the scientific knowledge in the past and make a determination about which data “the defendants possessed to support their marketing claims when they were made — matters, which the FDA will not address and which do not require its expertise but, which, rather, routinely fall within the conventional experience of judges.”

“The court is also constrained to express its concern that whatever value the studies might yield will be significantly outweighed, and Justice defeated, by prejudice arising from the delays that inevitably accompany the agency process,” Garguilo concludes.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who sits on the county’s public safety committee, said attorneys for both sides argued for seven hours about whether the case should be dismissed before Garguilo on March 19. The South Fork lawmaker noted it’s a very unusual case with roughly 20 plaintiffs.

While Garguilo is deciding the lawsuit’s fate, Fleming remains optimistic given his reluctance to grant a stay while the FDA investigates the risks and benefits of opioids.

“It’s actually a real win for the county,” she said.

Another new development of the case is that a request by Dr. Russell Portenoy, a pain management specialist who weighed in on the risks of opioids for the drug companies, to be dropped from the lawsuit was agreed to by all parties involved, Fleming said.

Fleming noted that at the end of the day, the defendants are completely different in that doctors have been considered secondary in the lawsuit.

“We also agreed that it made sense because the focus is on these larger corporate defendants because this is not a criminal action. It is a civil action and the relief that we are seeking is monetary,” she said.

Purdu Pharma’s spokesmen did not respond to a reporter’s inquiry by press time.

Attorneys for both sides are scheduled to appear in court on April 25.