WATERTOWN — The Jefferson County Legislature on Tuesday failed to pass a resolution to move forward with a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers to recoup the costs of prescription drug abuse, overdose and addiction. A number of counties across the state have brought similar suits already, but — at least for now — Jefferson will not be among them.
The resolution had been controversial in committee, with some legislators feeling that the manufacturers were the wrong target for a lawsuit while others felt they had been willfully negligent. The final vote was 7 ayes and 4 no votes, not enough to reach the eight-vote majority necessary to pass a resolution in the 15-seat legislature.
With the resolution before the entire board, a number of the legislators spoke passionately about their vote for or against.
“There’s no doubt there’s a problem in our society,” said Legislator Patrick R. Jareo. “I find it difficult to blame a company that markets to licensed professionals.”
Mr. Jareo said much of the blame falls on the local, state and federal government for their inaction in addressing prescription drug abuse.
Legislator Michael A. Montigelli spoke in favor of the measure.
“I do strongly support personal responsibility,” he said.
But Mr. Montigelli said he thought the manufacturers had been negligent. He shared the experience of picking up prescriptions for his wife after she had surgery.
“This stuff was like candy, I could have all I wanted,” he said. “The problem of capitalism is when it’s corrupt, it’s greed.”
Legislator Jeremiah J. Maxon, who vigorously opposed the measure in committee, spoke out against it again before the full board. He acknowledged that there was a problem of opioid abuse in the country, but it was not nearly as devastating as other, more mundane issues.
“It’s just not nearly as much of an issue as the media says it is,” he said. “It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, but there are a lot of other issues.”
To Mr. Maxon, the decision was clear.
“To go after the manufacturers of life-saving drugs is not only unethical, it’s immoral,” he said.
Legislator Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick shared the experience of her nephew, who struggled on and off with drug abuse.
“He abused himself,” she said. “He had a choice.”
To Mrs. Fitzpatrick, it was not the companies that created the drugs that were responsible for the abuse of their products.
“In good conscience I can’t support this,” she said. “I’d like to support it, but I just can’t.”
For Legislator John D. Peck, however, it was the companies that were responsible — if not entirely, at least in part. He spoke specifically of Purdue Pharmaceutical, manufacturer of OxyContin, which has been found responsible for misleading the public about the drug.
“I have no doubt this company did false advertising and false marketing,” Mr. Peck said. “These companies turned doctors into agents of death.”
In a body that usually approves resolutions unanimously, Chairman Scott A. Gray called a roll call vote to determine whether or not the motion passed.
Mr. Gray voted for the resolution to proceed with the suit, as did Mr. Montigelli, Mr. Peck, and Legislators Robert W. Cantwell III, William W. Johnson, James A. Nabywaniec and Jennie M. Adsit. Mr. Jareo, Mr. Maxon and Mrs. Fitzpatrick, along with Legislator Daniel R. McBride, all voted against the resolution. Legislators Anthony J. Doldo, Allen T. Drake, Philip N. Reed, Sr. and Robert D. Ferris were not present.
The motion may be introduced in future sessions, although if it is brought up in the next two sessions, it will have to pass by a two-thirds majority, or 10 votes. If it is introduced after that, it can pass by a simple majority.
Anita Seefried-Brown, manager of the Alliance for Better Communities, spoke before the board during the opening privilege of the floor in support of the resolution and brought several residents to testify to the effect of prescription drug abuse in their own lives or the lives of loved ones.
“While we have made great strides in addressing the scourge of opioids, we still have a long way to go,” she told legislators.
One of the residents, Genie Weaver, spoke about how her son, who has ADHD, received opioids after a football injury at 15.
“When he took that first opiate pill (he said) ‘I felt normal, my brain wasn’t going all over the place.’”
Ms. Weaver said he started buying drugs from adults after his prescription ran out, although he eventually got clean.
“It’s a crazy, insane life you find yourself in,” she said.
The other measures brought before the Legislature by the committees passed with little or no discussion or opposition.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.