ITHACA, N.Y. — The city of Ithaca took a step Wednesday night toward possibly suing pharmaceutical companies for misleading the public about the addictive qualities of prescription opioids, a major contributing factor in the national opioid epidemic.

During a City Administration meeting, Mayor Svante Myrick said, “What’s become very clear is that these pharmaceutical companies, the companies that manufacture opiates, knew pretty early on these were highly addictive and pretended that they weren’t — not just pretended that they weren’t — but marketed them as if they were a consequence-free alternative to managing your pain. That was also grossly irresponsible.”

He said that in 2016, the number of people who have died from opioid-related deaths amounted to more people than were killed by gun violence or car crashes annually.

The lawsuit would sue opioid manufacturers for the monetary strain the opioid epidemic has put on communities for services such as additional training for first responders, the cost of the opioid overdose-reversing drug Narcan, and the increased demand from firefighters, ambulances and police officers for opioid-related calls.

“This will look and feel a lot like a class action but its technically not a class action,” Ithaca City Attorney Ari Lavine said. “They (attorneys) could represent us individually, but they also represent, individually, lots of municipalities who have lined up for the exact same claim.”

The resolution states, “That the City Attorney is hereby authorized to commence civil litigation against opioid manufacturers and others who have harmed the City by promoting the abuse of opioids and to retain counsel—at no out-of-pocket cost to the City—to represent the City in such litigation.”

It unanimously passed through the committee and is going forward to Common Council for a vote.

Related: With Overdoses on Rise, Cities and Counties Look for Someone to Blame

If approved, the city would join many municipalities in New York and across the country, including Tompkins County, that have banded together to sue opioid companies for their role in the drug epidemic.

“I would just add that this is part of our all-of-the-above strategy to combat the large drug problem of opiate abuse particularly,” Myrick said, a kind of “truth and reconciliation process that we have to go through as a community.”

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.