McCoy want to see rules for prescribing opioids changed

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

In response to the opioid epidemic in 2014, the Guilderland Police Department was the first in the state to receive reimbursement for naloxone kits. Chief Carol Lawlor, in back, applied to the attorney general’s Community Overdose Prevention Program because there were 12 heroin overdoses in Guilderland that year and five of them were fatal. Dr. Donald Doynow, medical director for Guilderland Emergency Services, demonstrated how to administer a dose of naloxone with an atomizer. Looking on, at center, is Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, who on Jan. 31 joined hundreds of other plaintiffs in a lawsuit connecting prescription opioids to heroin use.

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy would like to see the rules and protocols regarding prescription opioids change, and use settlement money from a federal court case to help those already addicted.

“What I’m worried about is losing lives every day,” he said. “And you can’t put an amount on someone’s life.”

McCoy, in his State of the County Address last week, said that, in Albany County, total opioid deaths from 2010 to 2015 increased by 29 percent.

On Jan. 31, McCoy witnessed a federal trial in Ohio in which Albany County  was one of over 200 plaintiffs testifying against pharmaceutical companies. McCoy said that the county and its attorneys connected the prescription of opioid painkillers with addiction to heroin.

Albany County had originally sued five different pharmaceutical companies to stop them from continuing deceptive practices as well as for monetary compensation for damages and costs. The case was combined with hundreds of others and was heard in federal court by Judge Dan A. Polster of the Northern District of Ohio.

McCoy told The Enterprise on Friday that Polster broke up the trial into groups, speaking individually with the defendants and the plaintiffs — a group made up of a vast array of people such as attorneys general, mayors, town supervisors, county executives, union and hospital representatives, and members of the federal Food and Drug and the Drug Enforcement administrations.

“Every AG across the nation was invited,” McCoy said, adding that about 15 attorneys general attended. McCoy co-chairs a task force formed by the County Executives of America to deal with the opioid crisis.

McCoy said that he had not seen a trial like this before, and attributed this in part to the judge wanting to settle these cases as soon as possible. Polster had said at a previous court proceeding that 150 people would die from overdoses each day, even as the groups met.

“That was his goal, to do it quickly,” said McCoy.

McCoy said Albany County’s attorneys spoke about the connection between prescribed opioids and heroin use.

“We have an opioid epidemic going on,” he said.

He said the deliberate actions of the pharmaceutical companies is why the county’s lawsuit states the companies violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

The county had hired the law firm Motley Rice, said McCoy, to work with Albany County’s attorney. Motley Rice is one of the nation’s largest litigation firms and known for going up against large industries such as tobacco and asbestos.

McCoy said that six attorneys representing the plaintiffs and six representing the defendants would be meeting on March 6 to discuss and “set the table” for negotiations. He expects to return to Ohio for the negotiations on a settlement after that.

Some of changes McCoy is seeking include allowing opioids to be prescribed in doses lasting only up to a week, and requiring a specialist to be involved if pain continues and a doctor is recommending continued use of painkillers.

“Opiates shouldn’t be a long-term solution for pain,” said McCoy.

McCoy also said he’d like warning labels on containers of painkillers to include a warning about the addictive nature of the drug.

“Just like cigarettes,” he said.


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