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Amherst to sue opioid manufacturers, distributors over epidemic

Petty crime from the opioid epidemic and calls to respond to an increasing number of overdoses have put a strain on resources in the Town of Amherst, including its police and courts, officials say.

Now, the Town of Amherst is set to file a lawsuit in State Supreme Court against major manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medication. The town's suit, to be filed Tuesday, accuses the companies of public nuisance, fraud, negligence and unfair business practices, said Deputy Town Attorney Jeffrey E. Marion, who prepared the case.

"It is a bipartisan issue," Marion said. "Everybody agrees this has gotten completely out of control, that we just can't keep putting profits over people in these situations. We have plenty of momentum."

Cities and counties across the state and nationally have filed similar suits alleging that the drug companies misled doctors and patients into believing that the new prescription painkillers were safe even though they knew the drugs were highly addictive. Erie County filed a suit in February 2017. Last week, the federal government offered its support to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Cleveland that consolidates 400 complaints against opioid companies.

But, in New York at least, Amherst is believed to be a rare example of a town seeking unspecified damages for the toll of the opioid epidemic.

Erie County sues drugmakers over 'addictive and dangerous' painkillers

Amherst's ranking as one of the largest towns in the state, with a population of about 125,000, gives it standing to join the plaintiffs, said Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa.

"I know we're not the first municipality to do this, but we should be trying to right this injustice done to the town and the town taxpayers," Kulpa said.

Marion said he expects Amherst's suit to be consolidated with others in Suffolk County on Long Island. The lawsuit names 11 major drug manufacturers and related companies, as well as "key opinion leaders," he said.

The Town Board on Monday will consider hiring the New York City-based law firm Napoli Shkolnik to represent the town in the case. There would be no cost to the town because the firm would be paid on a contingency basis, receiving between 7.5 percent and 25 percent of any settlement agreement or awarded damages that may result from the lawsuit, depending on the stage at which the suit is resolved.

In a related matter, the board will consider creating a "chemical dependency task force" composed of town officials, representatives from school districts and others. It will look at preparing any local laws necessary to address the opioid addiction epidemic, including changes to the town's Zoning Code, and report its findings to the board by September.

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