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Riverhead, Southold to join local municipalities in opioid lawsuit

Officials in Riverhead and Southold both took steps this week to appoint special counsel in connection with an opioid lawsuit.

Southold Town attorney Bill Duffy confirmed that several municipalities, including Brookhaven, Southampton and several villages, intend to file a class-action lawsuit separate from the county’s against major opioid manufacturers and distributors.

“It mirrors the county [lawsuit],” he said, which is currently pending after a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge granted the go-ahead in May. A trial is now scheduled to begin next September.

In its lawsuit, Suffolk County alleges that opioid companies masked the addictive nature of the drugs and marketed them to consumers aggressively. The plaintiffs are seeking reimbursement for costs related to the opioid epidemic.

The agreement approved by Southold officials Tuesday directs Supervisor Scott Russell to retain Tate, Grossman, Kelly & Iaccarino of Hempstead. Riverhead officials also adopted a resolution Tuesday to retain the same firm.

Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the resolution derived from a meeting with New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“She had a big press conference earlier this morning about going after the manufacturers of the pharmaceutical companies that have distributed the opioids and not being respectful of the addictions that it causes,” Ms. Giglio said. “I think it’s a great effort and I’m glad that we’re doing our part in it and I will vote yes.”

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith agreed, mentioning that this removes the town from the class action suit against the manufacturers.

“The town will be pursuing it as a sole entity, instead of entering into the class action suit, hopefully, to get some damages for the destruction that it’s caused,” she said.

According to its website, that firm was established for the sole purpose of helping government municipalities and other institutions recoup damages as a result of the opioid crisis.

“Municipalities and other organizations have had to dedicate substantial resources to develop programs and train personnel, purchase overdose medication, pay overtime for first responders and other staff, and absorb unnecessary increases in medical/healthcare costs — not to mention the related losses of productivity,” the website states, also citing a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute showing that Long Island spent $8.2 billion tackling the opioid crisis in 2017.

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