Two More Florida Counties Sue Pharmaceutical Companies for Involvement in the Opioid Crisis

Michelle Rosenker

July 19, 2019

To date, 48 states and the District of Columbia have sued Purdue Pharma for their role in the ever-growing and deadly opioid crisis that has plagued the nation. In May of 2018, the entire state of Florida formally filed a lawsuit against the king-pin company for this very reason. Fast-forward to June of this year, and you can add two more Florida counties to the lengthy list of states and counties to sue Purdue. 

Seminole and Lake counties allege that Purdue Pharma and other drug companies have aided in the vast and excessive outbreak of opioid addictions within their counties. Similar to nearly every other lawsuit filed by other states and counties, Seminole and Lake counties are seeking reparations for the damages done by the overall negligence of these drug companies and pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, who are accused of restricting the sale of opioid-based prescription drugs. 

While Big Pharma, which is worth just shy of $935 billion, has continued to push the sales of prescription painkillers despite the development and continuation of this glaringly obvious epidemic, counties like Seminole and Lake have been left to clean up the mess. According to Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks, the responsibility to provide treatment and other rehabilitation services to those addicted to opioids has been left on their shoulders, including the cost of it all. He also notes that “the Sheriff’s Department has a cost of trying to address the opioid crisis. There are thousands of dollars they spend on Narcan and training.” He also mentions that inmate medical care is also a financial responsibility of theirs that has increased due to the opioid epidemic.

In the lawsuit, both counties are seeking reimbursement for the money already put towards the opioid crisis plus coverage for future expenses that come from those who could still become addicted to opioids. The lawsuit is also seeking future funding for programs, counseling, and treatment that these counties will need to put in place for those citizens impacted by the opioid crisis. 

Despite Purdue Pharma stating that, “the responsibility for this crisis cannot, as a matter of law, be tied to one company that manufactures a small fraction of the prescription opioids in the United States”, Seminole and Lake counties are continuing to seek reparations and coverage for future needs related to the opioid crisis. 

Why are Drug Companies Being Blamed for the Opioid Crisis?

Major drug companies like Purdue Pharma (who produced OxyContin) are continually being threatened by lawsuits for their alleged part in the opioid crisis. While at first glance it might seem absurd to sue a company over the public’s misuse of its product, there is much more to this particular story. 

In the 1990’s when prescription painkillers really hit the scene, major pharmaceutical companies include Purdue Pharma advertised their opioid-based medications to doctors and other healthcare professionals as being non-habit-forming and safe for consumption. They continually drove home this message to providers despite knowing that medications like OxyContin were habit-forming and could lead to the development of substance use disorders. As a result, those in prescribing power freely wrote up scripts for patients struggling with physical pain-related issues, which eventually led to an opioid addiction epidemic. 

By 2010, less than 15 years after OxyContin was first hawked to the medical community by Purdue, the “second wave” of the opioid crisis commenced, with people who were once addicted to prescription painkillers turning to the abuse of heroin, as it was much cheaper and easier to access. Today, less than a decade later, the abuse of prescription opioids and heroin is still on the rise, and those dependent on these opioids are experimenting with the most potent of all opioids thus far — fentanyl. 

The Opioid Crisis in Florida

Like most other places in the United States, Florida is experiencing opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose at rates higher than ever seen before. In Palm Beach County alone, more than 600 fatal overdoses occurred in 2016, most of which were caused by opioids. Today, numbers continue to climb and more resources are needed to treat those addicted to these deadly substances. 

For every 100 Floridians, nearly 61 painkiller prescriptions are written. This means that not only are prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin easily accessible, but they are also being prescribed at astronomical, unhealthy rates. In 2017, 25 out of every 100,000 people in the Sunshine State died from a drug overdose, many of which included opioids. 

This might seem ironic to many, considering Florida is a state that houses hundreds of addiction treatment facilities. As of 2019, there are 302 facilities that are supplying some level of medication-assisted treatment to the public. Medication-assisted treatment, which is viewed as the gold standard of opioid addiction treatment, utilizes opioid-based medications to help safely and effectively end opioid dependence. Additionally, Florida is home to two syringe exchange programs that encourage intravenous opioid and other drug users to dispose of their dirty needles in a safe place, obtain clean needles, and use in a safe space. Studies have proven that syringe exchange sites have helped to decrease rates of hepatitis and HIV, as well as prevent overdoses. 

Should Florida and counties such as Seminole and Lake counties win their lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and other major pharmaceutical companies, they could be poised to make a dramatic difference in the opioid crisis by addressing it through the appropriate treatment and supplies necessary to facilitate that change.

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