Yesterday a team of law firms lead by nationally recognized public health attorney Mike Moore filed a comprehensive lawsuit in Hillsborough County’s Thirteenth Judicial Circuit against fourteen opioid manufacturers and distributors for their role in creating and perpetuating the opioid epidemic that has devastated Hillsborough County. The County’s lawsuit, the filing of which was approved by the Board of County Commissioners through the outstanding leadership of Commission Chairperson Sandy Murman, seeks money damages from the defendants to be used locally for education, prevention and addiction treatment, as well as restitution for taxpayer outlays over the past several years spent on dealing with the opioid crisis.
Our Hillsborough County opioid lawsuit alleges that manufacturers of these drugs misrepresented the risks of opioids and marketed the drugs for chronic pain when, in fact, there is not one single valid scientific study that supports the use of opioids for treatment of long term pain. In addition, we intend to prove that the drug distributors, with the benefit of this increased marketing, negligently shipped an excessive amount of pain pills into our community, flooding our streets with these highly addictive drugs. Just as British Petroleum spilled oil from its Deepwater Horizon platform off our coast, these corporations have acted to cause a massive “pill spill” within Hillsborough County, and indeed throughout the United States. Pharmaceutical manufacturers named in the lawsuit include OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, Cephalon/Teva, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, Endo, Activis, Mallinckrodt, and Insys. The distributors who then delivered these drugs into our community include McKesson, Cardinal, Amerisource Bergen, H.D. Smith, CVS, Anda, and Walgreens.
The opioid epidemic adversely affects many residents from all walks of life, community providers, stakeholders and county government. This epidemic has impacted our senior citizens, adolescents, children, families, health care providers, law enforcement, employers, taxpayers, and the local economy. Tragically, most users start down the path to addiction after being given a legitimate prescription written by a doctor – a doctor who was most likely mislead by a pharmaceutical sales representative about the safety and efficacy of these powerful drugs. Purdue sales reps frequently told doctors that their product, OxyContin, presented a less than 1% chance of addiction, even though this defied centuries of understanding about the addictive properties of opioids (think opium). There are no peer reviewed studies that back this 1% claim. As such, we now have a community of addicts who got there through little fault of their own.
Hillsborough County has spent in excess of $35 million over the past five years supporting behavioral health related services, which frequently includes co-occurring opioid substance abuse. This averages approximately $7 million per year. The top three expenditures over this time period relate to substance abuse, mental health expenditures, and specialty services.
Since 2012, according to the medical examiner, we have seen over 1,072 opioid overdose deaths in Hillsborough County. This represents an increase of 24% over the last five years with the highest number of deaths occurring in 2017 based on the latest figures. That is a direct result of the fraudulent marketing of these drugs and the excessive number of pills shipped into our County by these defendants.
Hillsborough County also leads the State of Florida in the number of children born addicted to opioids, 579 reported cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in 2015. This equates on average to sixteen inpatient days per NAS case and $66,700 per case. This totaled approximately $38.6 million dollars in 2015 alone. No wonder these stats are so high given that one of the largest pill mills in the nation was operated right here in Hillsborough County on Dale Mabry Highway.
We do not expect the taxpayers of Hillsborough County to bear the burden of paying for the solution to this problem. Within the Hillsborough County Health care plan we have seen an annual rise in opioid related costs by almost 900% from 2005, and these costs are projected to rise. As a community and County, we have been aggressive in trying to fight the epidemic. Hillsborough County has completed a number of initial administrative actions to attempt to tackle the crisis. For instance, in 2010 the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) enacted an ordinance to eliminate pill mills. This was followed by new initiatives such as the Behavioral Health Jail Diversion Program, Co-Located Behavioral and Primary Care Pilot Program for Hillsborough County Health Care Plan Participants, the establishment of a Mental Health Drug Court, increased integration of social determinants such as housing for behavioral health, the expansion of intermediary beds (60-120 Days), and implementation of (SOAR) SSI/SSDI outreach, access, and recovery programs. More recently in September 2017 Commissioner Murman hosted the Hillsborough County Opioid Summit which was attended by hundreds of local, regional and national advocates, experts and other stakeholders. Finally, in April 2018 the County expanded the coverage of the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan up to 125% for the Federal Poverty Level to include additional substance abuse treatments.
Proposed increases in funding for the preceding programs and other initiatives for 2019 equate to approximately $10 million additional dollars which will focus on prevention, treatment, education and recovery programs. Hillsborough County, along with other local, regional, state and national stakeholders, continues to be aggressive in fighting this epidemic. But this will cost money and the taxpayers of Hillsborough County should not have to foot the bill. Our lawsuit aims to make sure they do not.
As a plaintiff attorney, Tom Young has been at the forefront of some of the Nation's worst disasters. In 2015, he was judicially appointed to represent over 200,000 plaintiffs in an allocation proceeding involving a $1.24 billion settlement with Deepwater Horizon contractor Halliburton and rig owner Transocean. Currently, he's focused on representing numerous communities across the country that have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic and are now seeking damages from drug manufacturers and distributors.