The Suffolk County jury that will determine if drug manufacturers and distributors are liable for the opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of Long Island residents received its instructions from State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo on Monday.
Opening arguments in the lawsuit filed by Suffolk, Nassau and New York Attorney General Letitia James that claims drug manufacturers and distributors aggressively pushed opioid painkillers in communities while minimizing their dangers are scheduled to begin Tuesday at Touro College’s Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in Central Islip.
The New York opioid litigation will be the first of its kind in the nation to go before a jury, which is expected to hear from hundreds of witnesses.
“We are going to be able to, for the first time, give our story to the jury of what has happened over the last two decades with respect to the promotion, the marketing of opioids, and the distribution of opioids that has created this massive flood throughout all our communities in the country,” said attorney Jayne Conroy of Simmons, Hanly and Conroy, who is representing Suffolk . “We are starting here because the problem is terrible in Suffolk County, in Nassau County and in the state of New York.”
State and county officials say they hope to hold the companies accountable for the death and misery caused by the opioid epidemic — and to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars for treatment, recovery and prevention.
“Everybody has lost a family member or a friend or a friend’s family member,” said Hunter Shkolnik of Napoli Shkolniik, an attorney representing Nassau County. “It has been described as a crime of the century, what has happened with the opioid epidemic. We are going to lay it out in this courtroom and this will be the first time all the players and their bad conduct are going to be shown to the people of the United States, not just Long Island.”
Defendants include Teva Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allegan Finance, Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp., and Amerisource Bergen.
Another defendant — Johnson & Johnson — agreed to an 11th-hour settlement to pay the state up to $230 million, the attorney general’s office announced Saturday.
The lawsuit could set a template for a future national settlement with drug manufacturers and distributors, public health experts and lawyers have said.