UTICA — The City of Utica is going to court against pharmaceutical companies that prosecutors have identified as contributors to the area’s opioid crisis.
The city’s Board of Estimate & Apportionment voted this week to retain the Brindisi, Murad, Brindisi & Pearlman Law Firm in Utica to pursue litigation against several pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors whose products have impacted the local area.
Utica officials solicited a request for proposals for outside counsel to investigate and potentially commence litigation against “parties responsible for any and all costs incurred by the City” related to opioid use, Mayor Robert Palmieri said in a statement.
“Ultimately, this is a win-win situation as individuals who contributed to this epidemic can be held responsible for their actions, and the City can potentially be compensated for the many expenses we’ve incurred combating opioids,” Palmieri said. “Most importantly, we are hopeful this effort will save lives by reducing opioid use in our community.”
As part of the agreement, Palmieri said the law firm will assume all costs and expenses associated with the investigation and the prosecution, and there will be no cost to the city if there is no recovery.
The Brindisi, Murad, Brindisi & Pearlman Law Firm was the only firm to respond to the request for proposals, according to the city. The firm already is representing several other municipalities in similar suits, including Oneida County, the village of Herkimer and Onondaga County, said attorney Eva Brindisi Pearlman.
The Board of Estimate & Apportionment voted 4-0, with Common Council representative Jack LoMedico absent.
With its argument, the law firm cites how total drug deaths have increased in Oneida County by 116 percent over a five-year period, going from 19 deaths in 2010 to 41 in 2015. There were 170 drug deaths in that span, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Basically, with the big pharmaceutical companies, our contention is they have really engaged in a fraudulent marketing scheme to persuade local doctors to prescribe opioid medication and convince them it’s not addictive,” Pearlman said, “which we know is not true.”
Lawyers are in the process of filing the complaint with the Herkimer case, Pearlman said.
With the county, which retained the firm’s services late last year, the complaint was filed in March in the Northern District of New York. Like similar cases nationwide that have been classified as multi-district legislation, the county’s case was transferred in April to the jurisdiction of the Northern District of Ohio and is now pending.
Pearlman said she expects litigation on Utica’s behalf to go a similar route. The law firm soon will file a summons and complaint against “various pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors,” she said.
The Brindisi, Murad, Brindisi & Pearlman Law Firm has formed a consortium with the Syracuse-based Cherundolo Law Firm and Petrone & Petrone in Utica to tackle the case.
Pearlman said the firm plans to pursue recovery of any money the city spent related to the opioid epidemic, such as increased costs for public safety and social services as well as court fees.
“That’s something we’ll have to show,” she said of the damages, “If they’ve had overtime costs, had to hire more staff. We’ll have to sit down with city officials to determine what costs and damages they’ve had to spend related to the opioid epidemic.”
Contact reporter Greg Mason at 315-792-5074 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Mason).