Onondaga County blames opioid manufacturers and distributors for heroin crisis, files lawsuit

Local News

Onondaga County is suing the manufacturers, distributors and others it says are responsible for the growing opioid crisis.

County Executive Joanie Mahoney and Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon told NewsChannel 9 Tuesday that the county has filed a lawsuit and retained counsel.

In 2016, there were 142 unintended opioid-related deaths within Onondaga County, according to the county executive’s office.

Onondaga County reports that the number of opioid-related deaths has more than tripled since 2012 and that the opioid-related deaths involving fentanyl has increased 250% between 2015 and 2016.

Onondaga County is asking to recoup the cost of fighting the epidemic, including on employee healthcare costs and public health insurance.

County Executive Joanie Mahoney says:

“The opioid epidemic is a serious and growing problem and our community is not immune to it. Too many families and lives are destroyed by these dangerous drugs and this lawsuit is a major step forward in our effort to combat this crisis from both a public health and legal perspective.”  Onondaga County has the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths among Central New York counties. The rate in Onondaga County is 27.1 per 100,000 population compared to 16.7 per 100,000 in NYS excluding NYC.  

Ryan McMahon, Chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, says: 

“Combating the opioid epidemic has been a main priority of the County Legislature and this lawsuit is another step towards holding accountable the responsible parties. Whether allocating funds for our health department or supporting the work of our other community partners, the Legislature remains committed to providing the resources necessary to bring an end to this crisis.”   

No prescribing doctors are named in the lawsuit, but several companies are:

  • Purdue Pharma, L.P.
  • Purdue Pharma, INC. 
  • The Purdue Frederick Company, INC.
  • Cephalon, INC.
  • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, LTD.
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, INC.
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals, INC.
  • Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, INC.
  • Endo Health Solutions INC.
  • Endo Pharmaceuticals, INC.
  • Mallinckrodt, PLC
  • Mallinckrodt, LLC
  • Allergan, PLC
  • Actavis, PLC
  • Watson Pharmaceuticals, INC.
  • Watson Laboratories, INC.
  • Watson Pharma, INC.
  • Insys Therapeutics, INC.
  • Amerisourcebergen Drug Corporation 
  • Cardinal Health, INC.
  • McKesson Corporation
  • 4 individuals

NewsChannel 9 has reached out to all the companies named in the lawsuit and some have responded:


“It is important to put into perspective Allergan’s role regarding opioids. Allergan’s two branded opioid products – Norco and Kadian – account for less than 0.08% of all opioid products prescribed in 2016 in the U.S. These products came to Allergan through legacy acquisitions and have not been promoted since 2012, in the case of Kadian, and since 2003, in the case of Norco. Allergan has a history of supporting — and continues to support — the safe, responsible use of prescription medications. This includes opioid medications, which when sold, prescribed and used responsibly, play an appropriate role in pain relief for millions of Americans.”

Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.:

We maintain that the allegations made in these lawsuits against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated.  Our actions in the marketing and promotion of our opioid pain medicines were appropriate and responsible.  At the same time we recognize that opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues that must be addressed. Finding those solutions will require collaboration among many stakeholders across the country.  We look forward to being a part of the ongoing dialogue and finding ways to address the crisis.  

Teva Pharmaceuticals:

“Teva is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines, and we recognize the critical public health issues impacting communities across the U.S. as a result of illegal drug use as well as the misuse and abuse of opioids that are available legally by prescription. To that end, we take a multi-faceted approach to this complex issue;  we work to educate communities and healthcare providers on appropriate medicine use and prescribing, we comply closely with all relevant federal and state regulations regarding these medicines, and, through our R&D pipeline, we are developing non-opioid treatments that have the potential to bring relief to patients in chronic pain. Teva also collaborates closely with other stakeholders, including providers and prescribers, regulators, public health officials and patient advocates, to understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse without sacrificing patients’ needed access to pain medicine.”

Purdue Pharma:

“We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

       Healthcare Distribution Alliance, representing McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen:

“As distributors, we understand the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country. We are deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution – but we aren’t willing to be scapegoats. 
“Distributors are logistics companies that arrange for the safe and secure storage, transport, and delivery of medicines from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and others based on prescriptions from licensed physicians. We don’t make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines, or dispense them to consumers. 
“Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated.
“We are ready to have a serious conversation about solving a complex problem and are eager to work with political leaders and all stakeholders in finding forward-looking solutions.”


“AmerisourceBergen and other wholesale drug distributors are responsible for getting FDA-approved drugs from pharmaceutical manufacturers to DEA-registered pharmacies, based on prescriptions written by licensed doctors and health care providers. Our role in doing so is quite widespread across different therapies, with the distribution of opioid-based products constituting less than two percent of our sales.

We are dedicated to doing our part as a distributor to mitigate the diversion of these drugs without interfering with clinical decisions made by doctors, who interact directly with patients and decide what treatments are most appropriate for their care. Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of tens of thousands of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type, and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute.

We are committed to collaborating with all stakeholders, including in New York, on ways to combat opioid abuse.”

See the full suit below. Mobile users click here. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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