Orange County gov tackling opioid epidemic

Plans to sue drug companies, open new addiction clinic


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  • Photo illustration With the problem of opioid addiction linked to the rise in felony drug indictments, both Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus have recently announced major steps to deal with this county-wide issue.



By the numbers

Four overdoses in Port Jervis last week
Five confirmed and 18 suspected overdose deaths in Orange County in 2017
15 county residents charged with selling and possessing heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs on Tuesday65 confirmed opiate-related overdose deaths in Orange County in 2016
138 times Orange County police have administered naloxone (emergency treatment for opioid overdose) since 2016
119 lives saved by naloxone in Orange County
175 Orange County residents in need of opioid addiction treatment

BY ERIKA NORTON

In the past week, four people overdosed on opioid drugs — and that’s just in Port Jervis. Since the beginning of the year, there have been at least 15 confirmed and 18 suspected overdose deaths in Orange County, with about 70 deaths last year.

With the problem of opioid addiction linked to the rise in felony drug indictments, both Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus have recently announced major steps to deal with this county-wide issue.

Lawsuit planned One step the county is pursuing is a lawsuit against a number of the major pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioid drugs, which many believe are to blame for the rise in prescription painkiller addictions-turned-heroin addictions.

The lawsuit would allege that “those manufacturers and their agents used deceptive practices in marketing opiate painkillers,” according to a press release from Hoovler, “resulting in significant over-prescription of opiates, and leading to the addiction of numerous Orange County residents, a number of overdose deaths, and significant costs to the County to combat the consequences of that over-prescription.”

Similar to the tobacco settlements of the past decade, this is something the county has been discussing over the last several months, according to Neuhaus, with other counties throughout the state filing, joining or considering similar suits. So far, Nassau, Suffolk, Broome, and Erie Counties have already filed lawsuits, with Erie filing after the county reached a point where 12 people were dying a week from opioid-related overdoses.

Neuhaus said he authorized the county to join Erie’s lawsuit Tuesday, with the end goal of trying to receive some financial support for the repercussions of the crisis in the county. He also said he hopes to see changes from pharmaceutical companies with how they’re distributing their products which are ultimately being prescribed to the patients for pain management after injuries such as broken bones or post-surgery.

“I’m seeing 107 percent increase in felony drug indictments between 2013 and 2016,” Neuhaus said. “So a major uptick. These have a cost financially and obviously socially. We have families ripped apart. We had some young people pass away recently.”

The major opioid drug manufacturers include Purdue Pharma, the main manufacturer of OxyContin, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s division Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Insys, Mylan and Depomed, which produce other opioid medications. Federal government officials are also getting involved, with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) recently sending letters to the these companies seeking information about sales and marketing materials, internal studies on addictions, details on their compliance with legal settlements and donations to advocacy groups.

Opioid addiction clinicThe county is also planning to open a new opioid addiction clinic on the west-side of the county, something Neuhaus mentioned in his recent State of the County address.

“We know at least 175 people right now in the Orange County community that have addiction problems,” Neuhaus said, “and can’t get help because there’s not enough facilities and doctors that can prescribe the help that they need.”

It may seem contradictory to be suing the pharmaceutical companies pharmaceutical companies for getting people addicted but now having those people go through treatment using another drug, Neuhaus said, but medications like methadone are needed to get people off of heroin. “It’s just a sad part of the disease,” he said.

In order to handle the 175 people who need treatment, the county is partnering up with Cornerstone Family Healthcare, which has the only methadone opioid addiction clinic right now in the county, located in Newburgh.

With the county providing transportation for over 100 people a week right to go from one end of the county — the Port Jervis area to the Newburgh area — to get treatment, Cornerstone is building a clinic in Port Jervis to help us close the gap.

“A lot of communities are not very welcoming to these type of facilities,” Neuhaus said. “So we’ve gotten a lot of resistance initially, but when communities see the amount of people that are dying of overdoses and the amount of people that want help, I think we’ve broken through that stigma now.”

Funding for the clinic will likely come from state grant funding, according to Neuhaus, as well as possibly some federal and county health dollars.

“As county executive, I never want to get into this ‘sue over everything type of business,’” Neuhaus said, “and also didn’t want to get into the medical business but, this is a societal need that somebody needs to fill, and rather than wait for somebody to come in and help us — which hasn’t really come through — we need to take the initiative on our own, and that’s what you see the Orange County government doing.”


I don’t think the lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies is going to be the single silver bullet, but we need to do everything that we can to try and stop this.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus


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