A Suffolk County doctor facing criminal charges for overprescribing pain meds who employed the novel defense of blaming his offenses on Big Pharma was unsuccessful in his effort to join a class action suit against the industry filed by a group of New York county governments.
Dr. Michael Belfiore, who is charged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York with 26 counts of illegal distribution of oxycodone and two counts of oxycodone distribution that resulted in a person’s death, had filed to intervene in suits filed by nine New York counties that have been consolidated in a Suffolk County court.
Belfiore argues that he and other doctors were misled by pharmaceutical companies by way of false advertising that the companies’ painkillers could be freely prescribed without concern of the products’ addictive qualities.
But Suffolk County Justice Jerry Garguilo said it is anticipated that more than 50 additional New York counties are expected to join in on the suit and noted that, while Belfiore is the only doctor who filed to join the suit, there could be a “flood” of other New York health care professionals who would file to join in the fray.
The defendants named in the counties’ suits include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Thomas Liotti, Belfiore’s lawyer, said in an email that denial of the request shows the “complicity of Big Pharma and the government in creating the opioid crisis.”
“The public has to be made aware of their actions so that innocent physicians like my client are not wrongfully charged,” Liotti said.
Paul Hanly, Jayne Conroy, Andrea Bierstein, Sarah Burns and Thomas Sheridan III of Simmons Hanly Conroy represent the counties.
In papers filed in opposition to Belfiore’s motion to intervene, Hanly argued that the outcome of the class action would not affect Belfiore’s criminal case and that allowing him to intervene would have prejudiced the county plaintiffs.
“It would not have been appropriate for him to be part of our litigation,” Hanly said in an interview.
As for Belfiore’s criminal case, on Oct. 12, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco of the Eastern District of New York ruled from the bench to deny Belfiore’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges.