Hillsborough County has filed a lawsuit in the 13th judicial circuit court in Hillsborough County against 14 manufacturers and distributors alleging they have played a role in the opioid epidemic in the county.
The county has hired a national team of lawyers to represent them in the lawsuit, with attorney Mike Moore as the lead litigant. Moore, a former Mississippi attorney general, is now handling a number of similar suits on behalf of local and state governments nationwide.
The list of defendants in the county’s lawsuit includes Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, McKesson Corporation, CVS Health Corporation, Walgreens and nine others.
At a news conference announcing the lawsuit, Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandra Murman said, “Today is an important day, but today is just like every day in Hillsborough County. There’s a baby being born that’s substance exposed because the mother was on drugs. We have many children every single day being removed from their homes, put in foster care because their parents are substance exposed and addicts.
“We have young people every day that are dying of opioid overdose,” Murman said.
The county’s lawsuit “alleges that manufacturers of these drugs misrepresented the risk of opioids and marketed the drugs for chronic pain, when in fact, there’s not one single valid scientific study that supports the use of opioids for treatment of long-term chronic pain, Murman said.
The county intends to prove that drug distributors shipped excessive amounts of pain pills into the community, flooding county streets with pain pills, the commission chairwoman added.
The opioid epidemic is widespread, crossing socioeconomic boundaries, she said.
“It affects our seniors. It affects adolescents. Children. Families,” she said.
There have been 1,072 opioid overdose deaths in Hillsborough County since 2012, Murman said. The county also has seen a 24 percent increase in opioids over a period of five years.
“That’s a direct result of the fraudulent marketing of the drugs and the excessive amounts of drugs shipped into our county by these defendants,” Murman said.
“Hillsborough County is leading the state in the number of babies born addicted to opioids,” Murman said. “That is totally unacceptable.”
There were 579 cases of babies addicted to opioids reported in Hillsborough County in 2015, she said.
“For me, it’s personal.,” Murman said. “My sister, who was addicted to painkillers, committed suicide.”
At the news conference, Moore said he was involved in helping to resolve the BP oil spill.
“What we have here is a pill spill,” Moore said. “Close to 40,000 people in your county are opioid addicts.”
Moore characterized the problem as a “ticking, ticking time bomb.”
“We want these companies to pay to clean the pill spill,’ Moore said.
Moore challenged a perception that some may have about the types of people who die from opioid abuse. It’s not just a problem faced by people who live on the streets, he said.
“It’s somebody’s 19-year-old college student.
“It’s a 35-year-old lawyer.
“It’s a housewife,” Moore said.
State attorney Andrew Warren, who also spoke at the news conference, agreed: “It’s a public health crisis. It does not discriminate.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, weighed in, as well. He put it like this: “We must dry up the supply. This is not an epidemic we’re going to arrest our way out of.”
Hillsborough’s lawsuit follows a national trend for local governments to fight against the distributors and manufacturers of opioid medications.
The Pasco County Commission voted in January to become one of several plaintiffs in litigation that seeks to replicate the kind of payouts attorneys won in the late 1990s against the tobacco industry.
Pensacola-based Levin Papantonio is representing Pasco County. The law firm is part of a consortium that is pursuing lawsuits in several states including West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.
In 2016, Pasco County had 165 drug overdose deaths, and 120 were related to opioids.
Published August 22, 2018