New York State’s civil case against opioid manufacturers and distributors, including the troubled Rochester Drug Co-operative Inc., will proceed on schedule.
The suit consolidates 31 cases filed by counties, including Monroe, against a scrum of pharmaceutical manufacturers and prescription drug distributors. New York Attorney General Letitia James filed charges holding the opioid sellers and makers responsible for sparking and feeding an epidemic of opioid addiction and abuse that has taken scores of New Yorkers’ lives and cost the state and local governments millions of dollars.
State appeals court judges earlier this month denied defendants’ bid to delay the trial, which remains slated to begin March 20 in a Suffolk County, Long Island, state court. That start date falls eight days short of a year after James filed the action.
“The deadly scheme perpetrated by these companies will be presented in open court and laid bare before the American people, and no one will be able to deny the immoral actions that led us here,” she declared in a statement released earlier this month.
The first named defendants in the case are Purdue Pharma L.P. and several of its affiliates. Members of Sackler family, who founded and ran Purdue Pharma, are also named as individual defendants.
Many point to Purdue’s heavy promotion of the drug OxyContin beginning in the early 1990s and continuing long after as having largely sparked a still ongoing U.S. opioid epidemic. Under pressure from a number of states, Purdue declared bankruptcy and has been taken out of the New York case.
As part of the bankruptcy, Purdue agreed to give up all assets to create a $10 billion fund to help cover states’ opioid costs. Sackler family members have come under criticism for pulling more than $1 billion out of Purdue before the company filed its Chapter 11 petition.
Specific charges against RDC detailed in James’ court action include allegedly concealing abnormally high volumes of opioids delivered to pharmacies by manipulating its reporting to federal authorities of drugs shipped.
In a separate federal action brought by the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency, RDC agreed in April 2019 to pay a $20 million fine and bring its opioid reporting practices into line with federal rules for the next five years. Earlier this year, it said it would entirely cease sales of opioids. The 2019 agreement came some four years after RDC agreed to pay $360,000 to settle a federal civil action accusing it of misreporting controlled substance sales.
In the Suffolk County case, James is seeking some $2 billion in restitution and fines from dozens of drug makers and distributors. What RDC’s share of damages that might be awarded would be is not clear.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford has ordered an insurance company that had sought to be let out of its obligation to cover RDC’s legal costs in the Suffolk County trial to at least temporarily foot the local company’s bills.
That apparent boon could be reversed if Wolford ultimately rules in the insurance company’s favor. And for that reason, Wolford is requiring RDC to post a $500,000 bond. Even if its legal bills are covered, RDC could still be on the hook to pay heavy monetary damages.
Founded roughly a century ago as a buying cooperative for regional independent pharmacies, RDC grew into one of the country’s 10 largest pharmaceuticals distributors. Plagued by opioid-related woes, its future is not clear. The company announced in February that it plans to close its Rochester plant and lay off 98 employees in May.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.