Steuben County plans to join the chorus of municipalities filing lawsuits over the opioid epidemic.
The county legislature gave the unanimous go-ahead to pursue the lawsuit on Monday. Steuben is targeting major pharmaceutical companies and large prescribers. Large prescribers could mean places like hospital systems.
The decision came after the public urged legal action at forums in Bath, Corning and Hornell. The county population is relatively small, but still had 16 overdose deaths last year.
“The number is staggering in comparison to what we were looking at even five years ago. We had less than a handful,” said Jack Wheeler, Steuben County Manager. “So, we’ve had magnitudes greater number of folks, unfortunately, dying in this county from opioid overdoses.”
Wheeler said Steuben doesn’t yet have the data to know the total cost the epidemic has had on the county, but he’s sure it’s significant.
For example, Wheeler said the number of people that enter jail addicted to drugs has gone up and oftentimes, the drug they’re addicted to is an opioid.
“We also know that drug addiction that we see in our jails, a tangible number for our medical costs are up over $150,000,” said Wheeler. “And a lot of that is people who come into our jail addicted to drugs.”
Wheeler added that the burden on the court system, social services and individual police departments has also increased because of the epidemic.
From here the county will explore which legal action makes the most sense, most likely a class-action suit.
Several other counties in New York are pursuing or looking into legal action over the opioid epidemic. That includes Broome, Tioga, Tompkins, Otsego and Schuyler Counties.