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NYC sues opioid makers, distributors for role in drug epidemic

Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray announced the lawsuit on Tuesday.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors on Tuesday. (Photo: Reuters)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray announced on Tuesday that New York City has filed a lawsuit to hold drug companies accountable for their part in the opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, names manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and more, alleging that they are the root cause of the crisis. 

The suit aims to recover half a billion dollars “in current and future costs the city will incur to combat this epidemic,” according to the mayor’s office.

Overdose deaths in New York City rose 17 percent between 2014 and 2015 and then jumped 50 percent from 2015 to 2016, said Dr. Herminia Palacio, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, at a Tuesday news conference.

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In 2016, more than 1,000 people in New York City died of opioid-related overdoses, the largest number on record for one year. That’s more than the number of New Yorkers who died in car accidents and homicides combined last year.

“Big Pharma helped to fuel this epidemic by deceptively peddling these dangerous drugs and hooking millions of Americans in exchange for profit,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “It’s time to hold the companies accountable for what they’ve done to our city, and help save more lives.”

The lawsuit alleges that manufacturers misrepresented the safety of long-term opioid use and distributors oversupplied opioids, leading to the opioid crisis and a “substantial burden” on New York City because of increased substance use treatment.

“As the dangers [of these drugs] became more and more clear, the companies went out of their way to publically minimize the dangers — went out of their way to promote the use and overuse, to keep encouraging doctors and the whole society to feel that they needed these drugs even when they didn’t,” de Blasio said at the news conference.

The mayor and first lady last March launched HealingNYC, a $38 million initiative to address the opioid epidemic. Under that initiative, the city’s health department has distributed more than 60,000 naloxone kits to opioid overdose prevention programs.

“Every single death from opioids is a preventable death,” Palacio said.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also announced this week that he was considering legal action against pharmaceutical companies over their role in the epidemic. Other municipalities in New York have made moves to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable, and cities across the country, including Chicago, Seattle and Cincinnati, have taken legal action against drug companies.