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Nation's Eyes On New York As Unprecedented Opioid Trial Begins On Long Island

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A precedent-setting trial is underway in New York state, pitting victims, their families, towns and communities in a class action lawsuit against a dozen pharmaceutical companies.

Prosecutors blame those companies for creating the opioid scourge and want them to pay. The proceedings are being held at Touro College of Law in Central Islip, CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported Monday.

READ MOREFamilies Impacted By Opioids Call On New York To Reallocate Funds Received In Settlements For New Treatments

The first opioid trial in America is a go. Pharmaceuticals are accused of fueling the epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives and affected millions more.

"You feel helpless. You feel hopeless," one person said.

"Nobody was going to hire me," another person said.

"I've been there," another added.

"It was an in-and-out cycle," a man said.

READ MOREMcKinsey & Company Agrees To Pay $537 Million For Role In Opioid Epidemic

The lawsuit will be the first of its kind in the nation to go before a jury.

"All eyes are going to be on New York," said Jayne Conroy, an attorney representing Suffolk County.

Hunter Shkolnik represents Nassau County.

"It's a plague. It has been described as a crime of the century, what has happened with the opioid epidemic," Shkolnik said.

The lawsuit claims manufacturers and distributors aggressively pushed opioid painkillers into New York communities while minimizing risks and addiction. A dozen companies are going to trial. Four others -- Johnson & Johnson, Rite Aid, CVS and Walmart -- recently settled with no admission of guilt or liability.

Advocates want all settlement money to go for opioid treatment and prevention.

"Here in New York state, there is about $1 billion that's in play, depending how the trial goes," said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds of the Family & Children's Association.

READ MORENassau County Relaunching Operation Natalie To Combat Opioid Abuse

State and county officials along with victims' families say they want to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the death and misery caused by the opioid epidemic.

"When you have a great kid, a 'perfect' child like Natalie, you tend to trust a little too much," Victor Ciappa said.

"I worry every morning when I wake up and I think that some other poor parent is going through this," another parent said.

The trial, which is expected to last six to eight weeks, begins as Nassau and Suffolk deal with a disturbing spike in fatal overdoses blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The judge said opening statements could last three days, due to the amount of litigants.

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