WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM) – Schuyler County will receive up to $121,000 from Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., to treat, reduce and prevent opioid use through a court settlement with the opioid maker.

The funding is part of a $260 million settlement that Johnson & Johnson reached in New York State to finalize lawsuits brought by Schuyler County, the State of New York and others, pertaining to the company’s alleged role in the increase of use and abuse of opioids.

Meeting in special session on Wednesday, the Schuyler County Legislature voted unanimously to accept the settlement and authorized Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman to execute the necessary legal documents on the county’s behalf.

According to Getman, the funds can be used for a variety of restricted and unrestricted purposes.

“Possible uses include supporting law enforcement and first responders, treating opioid addiction,  funding social services and similar efforts,” Getman explained.

The drugmaker also agreed to permanently end the manufacture and distribution of opioids across the nation, Getman said.

In 2018, Getman, working with law firm Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC as special counsel, filed a lawsuit against approximately thirty defendants, including some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry.  Along with Johnson and Johnson/Janssen, the defendants included: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Actavis Pharma, Inc. and Insys Therapeutics, Inc. 

The lawsuit alleged the defendants knew–and had known for years–that opioids were addictive and subject to abuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic non-cancer pain, and should not be used except as a last-resort. However, the lawsuit stated, the defendants spent hundreds of millions of dollars disseminating scientific materials and advertising that misrepresented the risks of opioids’ long-term use.

Schuyler County was one of many local governments that filed lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York sued the pharmaceutical companies for what the counties claimed were deceptive marketing practices.

After the counties filed suit, in March 2019, the New York State Attorney General’s office filed its own lawsuit on behalf of the state.   In June, Attorney General Letitia James announced the tentative deal with Johnson and Johnson, calling the largest monetary settlement ever secured by her office.

Schuyler County’s lawsuit against other defendants remains pending, Getman said, with the possibility of more settlements and additional funding to the county still to come. 

“Over the past few years, despite its small population, Schuyler County has seen an uptick in opioid and heroin use and overdose,” Getman said. “To date, County officials have expended public resources to help its residents battle opioid addiction and prevent further deaths. This settlement is just one step to reimburse the County for its expenses related to the opioid crisis as well as provide the County with financial assistance to continue this battle.”

Johnson and Johnson has stated the settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing by them and the company “remains committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for communities in need.”

The lawsuits by Schuyler County and others are part of a tide of litigation over an epidemic linked to nearly 500,000 deaths over the last twenty years. The cases have drawn comparisons to the multistate litigation against tobacco companies in the 1990s.  Those lawsuits were resolved as part of the landmark $206 billion Master Settlement Agreement announced in November 1998 between the tobacco industry and the states’ attorney generals.