The County of Pike is taking aim at the pharmaceutical companies across the nation that are accused of deceiving the public for many years, that prescription opiates are not addictive.

MILFORD - The County of Pike is taking aim at the pharmaceutical companies across the nation that are accused of deceiving the public for many years, that prescription opiates are not addictive. The county commissioners have entered an agreement with two law firms to explore the feasibility of bringing court action.

“For a number of years now I have speaking to you about this, about what is going on in our community about the opioid epidemic,” Commissioner Chairman Matthew Osterberg said, at the Sept. 20th commissioners’ meeting. He said he has been talking with the other two commissioners and others in Harrisburg, about “how we can hold the pharmaceuticals responsible for creating this mess.”

He referred to reports addressing how pharmaceuticals “make us believe that opposed in the form of Oxycodine, pain relief, is non-addictive.”

Like the class action suit that held the tobacco industry accountable for the health effects from smoking, he said the drug companies need to be held accountable as well. Osterberg said that there is a place for these drugs to control pain in serious medical cases, but not in the way they are being prescribed.

Huge impact locally

County agencies attest to the expense paid out on the local level to combat opioid abuse, he noted. “I believe that we in Pike County owe it to these residents that are suffering, that we hold the right people responsible,” he said. “Not 100 percent, but they have to realize there is some culpability on their part.”

Some years ago, a drug company was found guilty of this and paid a $600 million fine. “That’s not enough,” he said.
In just Pike County, PA, he noted, Children and Youth Services, in 2016, placed 46 children outside their own home. “Twenty one of them are addicted,” he said. “In neonatal, 54 out of 1,000 births in Pike County …are born with some form of addiction, and 50% of them are from opiates,” Osterberg stated. He added that at the Correctional Facility, 80 to as much as 100% of the inmates come in with some form of addiction. Much money is spent to try and help them, he noted.

The law firms came highly recommended to the commissioners, he said. They include Young, Richhiuti, Caldwell & Heller LLC, of Philadelphia; and Simmon, Hanly, Conroy LLC, of New York, Illinois, Missouri and California.

Other needs to follow suit

Commissioner Steve Guccini said that there is no cost borne by the county taxpayers for this feasibility study. The agreement is set up, if the county gets any money, the law firms are paid.

Citing an article he said he read, Guccini said that the national life expectancy has been going down because of opioid deaths. Life expectancy had been on the increase.

“I think this is a very good thing we are doing,” Guccini, “but you need to keep an eye on what the federal and state governments are doing.” He asked if others on higher levels are going to join in being law suits as well.

Sullivan County, NY has launched a similar feasibility study, and there are other counties in Pennsylvania on board, Osterberg stated.

“It’s just a matter of time before other counties are going to catch on to this,” Commissioner Richard Caridi stated. “Because they have the same problem.”

Guccini said it will be up to the law firms to decide if other governmental entities are joined in the lawsuit, if they come forward and ask to participate. “This is in the very early stages,” Guccini said. The agreement states that Pike County shall retain full and final control over substantive decisions in this matter and any litigation that may result.

The study would determine the feasibility of bringing action against manufacturers, distributers and sellers of prescription opiates for damages to Pike County and its residents, “arising out of aggressive marketing and distribution of opiates” to the County and its residents, the agreement states.

This is based on the County’s understanding of similar litigation pending in the United States.

Controlling pain

Osterberg said that there is a place for these drugs to control pain in serious medical cases, but not in the way they are being prescribed.

“Opioids are readily available to people,” Osterberg said. “They have it now set up that hospitals are rated by the amount of pain… they are funded back by the federal government by the level of care they give, and one of the questions they ask is, ‘Did you suffer any pain?”… If people check that the wrong way, they are impacted by that. This is the government telling the hospitals… make sure they get enough pain medication…”

“Well, sometimes there’s going to be some pain, and I’m not talking about people that are suffering from cancer or severe injuries,” the chairman continued. “There’s a place for these drugs. But there’s not a place where you have a simple wisdom tooth pulled out. There needs to be another plan.”