Albany County sues pharmacies for ‘flooding’ it with opioids

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Serious faces: Donald Migliori, a partner at the firm Motley Rice, discusses at press conference on Wednesday a lawsuit filed by Albany County against pharmacies and other distributors of opioid painkillers.

ALBANY COUNTY — A little over a year after filing a lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers, Albany County is now also suing the distributors, alleging that they failed to control the spread of opioid painkillers and profited from this.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced on Wednesday that the county has filed a lawsuit against companies like Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS, saying that pharmacies have a responsibility to monitor the painkillers being prescribed and calling them “the first line of defense.”

“They see the stuff being pushed over the counter,” he said.

Donald Migliori, a partner at the firm Motley Rice, which the county hired to work with its own attorney on this lawsuit as well as the previous one, said that pharmacies have a legal obligation to ensure that prescription drugs are not used for illegal or illicit means.

“Now, having the right to do that distribution comes with an obligation in law,” he said.

Migliori said that the suit includes a public-nuisance complaint, asking that the pharmacies fund efforts to stop the opioid epidemic.

Albany County filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers last January along with hundreds of other local governments; the suits were then combined as multidistrict litigation, being heard by Judge Dan Polster of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

Last year’s suit alleges that drug manufacturers spread misinformation about painkillers and also violated New York State’s business laws and the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

The new lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, alleges that wholesalers AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal, and McKesson violated RICO as well for scheming together to skirt the law.

Migliori said that the new suit against pharmacies and other distributors will be added to the roster of other lawsuits that Polster will be presiding over in a trial that is expected to take place in Ohio this October.

Motley Rice is known for going up against large industries such as tobacco, though Migliori said that the cases against tobacco and opioids are distinct from one another.

The latest lawsuit filed by the county states that distributors took advantage of the widespread use of opioids after manufacturers used deceptive marketing tactics in the mid-1990s and “flooded many communities with opioids” in order to get volume-based rebates and discounts.

“Sales and distribution data available to Defendants, as well as their own observations, would, or should, have put them on notice of potential diversion. Yet, upon information and belief, Defendants consistently failed to report or suspend these illicit orders, deepening the crisis of opioid abuse, addiction, and death in the County,” the lawsuit says.

The suit alleges these actions caused the opioid crisis across the country as well as in Albany County, stating that drug deaths in the county increased by 29 percent from 2010 to 2015, and that in 2016 there were 11 deaths from heroin and eight from opioid painkillers, 113 outpatient visits and 23 hospitalizations for opioid overdoses, and 1,194 unique clients admitted to treatment programs for heroin and other opioids.

Albany County had 31 opioid overdose deaths in 2015, ranking higher than 46 of New York’s 62 counties, the suit says.

The lawsuit also states that distributors failed to report suspicious orders repeatedly, ignored “red flags” of opioid abuse, and hid their lack of cooperation with law enforcement while falsely claiming to be working with them to stop drug abuse.

Editor’s note: H. Rose Schneider’s long-time domestic partner currently works as a retail manager for Rite Aid. Her aunt is a pharmacist for Walgreens.

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