Pasco reviewing lawsuit proposal linked to opioid epidemic

More than 15 years ago, a landmark settlement against tobacco companies netted billions of dollars for plaintiffs who sued over smoking-related illnesses.

The nation’s opioid epidemic may be headed in that same direction.

And, the Pasco County Commission is mulling a proposal to join a growing number of governments that are seeking to recoup public dollars spent battling opioid addictions.

At a Dec. 5 workshop in New Port Richey, Pensacola-based attorney Jeff Gaddy laid out a case for why Pasco should join the legal fray.

County commissioners made no commitment, but accepted a proposal for review.

“We’ll make a decision down the road,” said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Wells. “We know it’s an epidemic.”

If approved, legal action would be taken on a contingency basis, with Pasco paying no upfront costs and only paying attorneys in the event of a settlement.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who attended the workshop, favors the lawsuit.

“This is a pill epidemic that didn’t have to happen,” he said.

Every deputy now carries a supply of Narcan, the brand name for naloxone. The medication can be used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Nocco said 40 people “have been brought back” by deputies and first responders administering Narcan.

Gaddy’s firm is among seven law firms litigating the issue in states including West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

The group has about 120 clients in more than 10 states, and to date has filed more than 80 lawsuits. Some lawsuits could eventually be consolidated into a single lawsuit.

“We are without a doubt the national leader in this litigation,” Gaddy said.

The lawsuits are filed against drug distributors and manufacturers. They allege false claims about the safety of opioids and a massive pill distribution that created a “public nuisance,” he said. “They should be held accountable for it.”

Distributors are required by law to report suspicious orders to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. But, Gaddy said those rules have been violated.

He cited reports from West Virginia that 780 million pills were distributed over six years in a state with about 1.8 million people.

“It was off the chart by any stretch of the imagination,” Gaddy said.

There are about 800 drug distributors, but Gaddy said three major distributors typically have been named as defendants in lawsuits. They are Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp., and Amerisource-Bergen.

The goal is to force plaintiffs to establish abatement funds that would pay for the drug damages to communities through education programs in schools, costs to law enforcement, and funds to support drug prevention and addiction recovery programs.

Gaddy said, “There is no county in the nation with enough beds to handle the flood of victims of their pills.”

Published December 27, 2017

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