CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A verdict was reached Thursday in a precedent-setting opioid trial in New York state, pitting victims, their families, towns and communities in a class action lawsuit against a dozen pharmaceutical companies.
State Attorney General Letitia James said a jury found Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates liable “for the death and destruction they inflicted on the American people.”
The six-month landmark opioid trial targeted companies involved in the opioid supply chain from manufacturers to distributors. The proceedings were held at Touro College of Law in Central Islip.
It started with over a dozen defendants. Many settled, leaving Teva Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates remaining.
New York state and Nassau and Suffolk counties argued they misled people about the true danger of opioids.
“We think this sends a strong message, not just to Teva and Anda, but to any company that is breaking the law with respect to controlled substances,” said Jayne Conroy, an attorney representing Suffolk County.
Prosecutors say hundreds of exhibits were shown in court, which show the way opioids were sold and marketed throughout the state, along with videos the company allegedly created for an internal conference, like a parody of “Austin Powers.”
Prosecutors blamed Teva Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates for creating the opioid scourge and wanted them to pay.
Pharmaceuticals were accused of fueling the epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives and affected millions more.
The lawsuit claimed manufacturers and distributors aggressively pushed opioid painkillers into New York communities while minimizing risks and addiction. A dozen companies went to trial. Four others — Johnson & Johnson, Rite Aid, CVS and Walmart — recently settled with no admission of guilt or liability.
“Before Nassau County went to trial, I promised residents that we would make those responsible for the opioid crisis pay,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. “Today’s victory for Nassau County will pave the way for further funding for treatment, prevention, and education in Nassau. While no amount of money will replace the countless lives that have been affected, we can save future lives by expanding our support network and increasing funding for mental health and addiction programs, along with prevention efforts. Through this effort, Long Island has paved the way for the rest of the country.”
James released a statement which said, in part, “Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and others misled the American people about the true dangers of opioids, which is why, in 2019, I made a promise that our team would hold them and the other manufacturers and distributors responsible for the opioid epidemic accountable for the suffering that they have caused.
“Today, I am left thinking about all those families that will never be whole again. For everyone who lost their life. For every parent who will never hold their child again. For every community that’s been devastated. But, today, we took a significant step in righting the wrongs this country has collectively experienced over the last two decades,” James added.
Advocates have asked for settlement money to go for opioid treatment and prevention.
State and county officials along with victims’ families said they wanted to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the death and misery caused by the opioid epidemic.
CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis spoke with a family that has been fighting the epidemic for over a decade.
Victor and Doreen Ciappa will never forget June 21, 2008. It was Victor’s birthday and the day they lost their daughter, Natalie.
“A super high achiever, brilliant, beautiful, talented,” Victor Ciappa said.
A stellar student, singer and cheerleader who died of a drug overdose at 18 years old.
“We were blindsided. Natalie was the perfect kid as far as we were concerned, so if it could happen to Natalie, it absolutely can happen and, god forbid, will happen to anybody, so parents have to be more aware,” Victor Ciappa said.
The Massapequa couple has been raising awareness ever since with a law in her name and helping Nassau Police with “Operation Natalie,” a county-wide anti-opioid initiative.
After learning about Thursday’s verdict, Doreen Ciappa said, “It’s not the end, but it’s the beginning.”
“It’s the beginning, and it’s well overdue,” Victor Ciappa said.
Teva Pharmaceuticals released this statement on the verdict:
Teva Pharmaceuticals strongly disagrees with today’s outcome and will prepare for a swift appeal as well as continue to pursue a mistrial. In NY, the plaintiffs presented no evidence of medically unnecessary prescriptions, suspicious or diverted orders, no evidence of oversupply by the defendants – or any indication of what volumes were appropriate – and no causal relationship between Teva’s conduct including its marketing and any harm to the public in the state. Prior to deliberation, Teva sought a mistrial based on, among other issues, the state’s misrepresentation of the amount of opioids sold by Teva in NY by more than 500 times. Teva continues to focus on increasing access to essential medicines to patients, including opioid medications for approved indications. Most importantly, the Company continues to pursue a national settlement in the best interest of patients. As recently as last month, a court in California issued a decision finding that Teva did not cause a public nuisance in Orange County, Los Angeles County, Santa Clara County and the City of Oakland and that Teva did not make any false or misleading statements in connection with marketing prescription opioids in California. Additionally, last month the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned an earlier judgment against a pharmaceutical manufacturer and ruled that the public nuisance law in Oklahoma does not extend to the manufacturing, marketing and selling of prescription opioids.
Another trial will be held to determine how much Teva and others will be required to pay, which will be added to the up to $1.5 billion the attorney general has already negotiated for New York from different opioid manufacturers and distributors.