ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County is considering joining other New York counties in suing opioid manufacturers. Local officials say the action would be a way to recover damages from companies that contribute to local costs associated with drug addiction.

A resolution discussed Wednesday at the Government Operations Committee places blame for the opioid epidemic on manufacturers, distributors and promoters because they have deliberately misled doctors and patients about the addictive nature of opioids and prescription painkillers, misrepresent the dangers of opioids and market them in a way that promotes addiction.

If the county was to pursue legal action against opioid manufacturers, it would have to prove financial damages suffered, county attorney Jonathan Wood said.

Tompkins would be one of several counties in New York joining in litigation against pharmaceutical companies.

In September, Nassau, Suffolk, Schenectady, Broome, Erie, Dutchess, Orange, Seneca and Sullivan counties began proceedings of a coordinated lawsuit against 19 companies.  The counties are seeking damages for millions of dollars they say they spend each year to combat the opioid epidemic.

The local resolution proposed states the opioid epidemic has cost the county in the form of “increased social services, policing, treatment, incarceration and other expenditures.”

At the meeting, Legislator Will Burbank asked if there was an estimate of the cost of the epidemic to the county, but Wood said they are not at a point to put a number on it.

Legislator Carol Chock said everyone at every level of government should participate in holding companies responsible for misleading the public, misrepresenting research and profiting off of those misrepresentations.

“Even if it costs us something, I would like to see us participate,” Chock said. “If every level of government and every locality leaves this up to others to do … then who starts it? Who steps up?”

Legislator Rich John said the more he reads about the misinformation provided to doctors about the safety of opioids, “the more I think we have to do something.” John cited an article that ran in The New Yorker this week, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” which describes how aggressive marketing of painkillers has “generated billions of dollars—and millions of addicts.”

“We’re going to continue to see the damage from this for years to come, if not more than a decade if we can get it under control,” John said. “The wrongness of what these pharmaceutical companies have done, it just seems obvious. I think we need to do something.”

Members of the committee unanimously supported the resolution Wednesday. It will move on to the full Tompkins County Legislature and is on the agenda Nov. 9.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.