Westchester County Legislators

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Legislators Take First Step on Shimsky Bill Aimed to Combat Opioid Epidemic & Hold Big Pharma Accountable

(WHITE PLAINS, NY) During today’s meeting of the Board of Legislators Committee on Litigation, legislators began discussion on a bill introduced by Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), & sponsored by her colleagues on the Board from both sides of the aisle, which will authorize the County Attorney to take action against pharmaceutical companies that have profited from the proliferation of opioid painkillers through the alleged misrepresentation of the drugs’ safety.

“Nationwide, more Americans are dying from opium and opioids than from car accidents – Westchester County alone lost 334 victims from 2010-2015, and the annual toll is rising,” said Shimsky. “When I speak with my neighbors who have lost a loved one to an opioid overdose, they often tell me the same thing – addiction began with the prescription of painkillers for ailments which in the past might have been prescribed Advil. There is no question about it, opioid painkillers are a gateway to heroin. This is an epidemic that is devastating our communities and we must hold those responsible accountable.”

The drugs on our streets are so dangerous that cases have been reported where law enforcement officers have needed to take emergency anti-overdose medication from incidentally ingesting drugs when administering help to victims.

Eight New York counties - Dutchess, Rockland, Ulster, Nassau, Suffolk, Broome, Erie, and Orange - and states all over the country are suing Big Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic.  Unethical marketing practices have been linked to the over prescribing of and addiction to prescription painkillers, as well as the heroin addiction that ensues when patients can no longer obtain or afford the pills.

“Opioids and other addictive prescription drugs manufactured, distributed and widely dispensed in this country have caused devastating impacts on the health and safety of residents and are a financial drain on governments paying for public services to affected residents. The Westchester community is not immune from these impacts,” said Legislator Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon), Chair of the Committee on Litigation. “We are taking the first step in assessing the possible legal remedies to pursue in order to compensate the County for financial and other injuries as the result of the opioid epidemic. We would be derelict in our duties were we not to take a hard look at the consequences of conduct by pharmaceutical companies and other involved actors on County residents."  

These lawsuits have been compared to those filed against Big Tobacco, which alleged false advertising and misrepresentation of the health impacts of tobacco products.

“Tobacco companies hurt people and created a national health crisis,” added Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers). “This is about holding big pharmaceutical companies accountable in the same way tobacco companies were held accountable.”


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