[St. Augustine Record] In an attempt to recoup at least some of the money spent dealing with the opioid addiction epidemic, St. Johns County has joined the ranks of local and state governments filing lawsuits against major pharmaceutical companies.
The county’s lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court through outside counsel Michael Kahn of Melbourne.
According to the complaint, the county is seeking relief for the costs of opioid-related addiction for things like: providing mental health services, treatment, counseling, rehabilitation services and social services to victims. It also mentions, among other items, costs of training first responders in the proper treatment of drug overdoses.
It even seeks money to offset losses caused by diminished property values “in the form of decreased business investment and tax revenue.”
The St. Johns County Commission agreed last year file the lawsuit. According to a story this week from National Public Radio, more than 1,800 state and local governments have filed opioid-related lawsuits.
Commissioner Paul Waldron said because the county spends so much money dealing with opioid-related issues, the Commission almost has an obligation to attempt to defray the many costs associated with the problems.
“The cost of treatment and the cost of our law enforcement and (related services) continue to rise, we’re getting no help in fighting the addictions — we’re getting some but it’s not catching up with the costs,” Waldron said. “That’s what we’re trying to look at: How do we get the taxpayers back their money they’re spending on opioid addictions.”
County Attorney Patrick McCormack said the county used outside counsel for the lawsuit so that it could rely on an expert in this type of litigation at the federal court level.
The lawsuit complaint says that from 1999 to 2016, 200,000 Americans died from opioids prescribed by doctors to treat pain. It says the opioids include brand-name prescription medications such as: OxyContin, Opana ER, Vicodin, Subsys, and Duragesic, as well as generics like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, it says.
This lawsuit, and others, blames drug companies like Purdue and pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart: “the pharmaceutical manufacturers of prescription opioid drugs that engaged in a massive false marketing campaign to drastically expand the market for such drugs and their own market share and (2) claims against entities in the supply chain that reaped enormous financial rewards by refusing to monitor and restrict the improper distribution of those drugs.”
This suit also criticizes the marketing of opioid drugs, calling it irresponsible.
The complaint says: “Defendants necessarily expected a return on the enormous investment they made in their deceptive marketing scheme and worked to measure and expand their success. Their own documents show that they knew they were influencing prescribers and increasing prescriptions. Studies also show that in doing so, they fueled an epidemic of addiction and abuse.”
The first major settlement came in March when Purdue Pharma and the state of Oklahoma agreed to a $270 million out-of-court settlement. As part of the agreement, Purdue established a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa.
A statement from Purdue — specifically for the Drs. Mortimer and Raymond Sackler families — said: “We have profound compassion for those who are affected by addiction. The National Center will provide immediate assistance to Oklahomans and individuals nationwide who need these services, and our support is in keeping with our family’s continuing commitment to making meaningful contributions to solutions that save lives.”