Orlando city leaders on Monday voted to join hundreds of governments across the nation in suing drug-makers and distributors over the opioid epidemic, National Sportslink reports.
The lawsuit accuses the pharmaceutical giant and more than a dozen other companies of lying to sell more opioids. Orlando joins other local governments, including Orange, Osceola, Lake and Seminole counties, who are suing Purdue.
The lawsuit says Orlando has seen dramatic increases in staffing needs for police and fire rescue because of the crisis. The need for naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, has also grown.
“We’re joining a large number of states and cities and counties across America that are trying to deal with the crisis of opioid abuse and this is one small way that we can do that,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Purdue is the maker of Oxycontin. Purdue sought bankruptcy protection in September in an attempt to settle nearly 2,700 lawsuits. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, the city of Orlando said it is not immune from the opioid crisis.
“It is important that we continue to work together with our community to break the cycles of addiction, overdose, and death that have taken hold here in Orlando. This litigation is one way that the City continues to work to tackle this crisis and help create real lasting change for our community.”
Therefore, Orlando joins surrounding Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties and cities including Sanford, Apopka, and Oviedo, in filing the federal complaints, which could land the city a piece of potentially lucrative settlements.
In filing suit, City Hall is hiring James Young, a Morgan & Morgan attorney based in Jacksonville, who has been involved in more than two dozen similar suits across the country. Young will be paid a cap of 25% of a settlement that is recovered, city records show.
“Among other things, Orlando has experienced an unprecedented opioid addiction and overdose epidemic costing millions in health insurance, treatment services, autopsies, emergency room visits, medical care, treatment for related illnesses and accidents, payments for fraudulent or medically unnecessary prescriptions, and lost productivity to Orlando’s workforce,” a draft complaint reads.
As the epidemic has taken hold, involved in 47,600 deaths nationally in 2017 or 67.8% of all drug overdose deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Police Chief Orlando Rolón said all of his officers are outfitted with naloxone, a potentially life-saving medication that combats opioid overdoses.
“It’s that common that the overdoses are occurring in our communities…that it’s not as shocking,” Rolón said. “It’s an issue that affects everyone. No one is immune to it, it doesn’t matter what your background is.”
Since 2016, the District 9 Medical Examiner’s Office, covering Orange and Osceola counties, has accounted for more than 1,000 deaths related to the drugs since 2016 — 339 last year. Through September, the office has counted 160 opioid-related deaths.
Rolón said Orlando officers have been hospitalized after coming in contact with a substance thought to be related to opioids. He said officers are called off their regular duties to respond to medical calls relating to overdoses. The fire department also frequently responds to calls relating to overdoses.
A spokeswoman for Purdue Pharma, a defendant named in the suit, said in an email that the company sympathizes with victims and is “seeking to resolve these claims in an unprecedented fashion.”
“Rather than waste time and money fighting in court we have offered to convert our company to one solely dedicated to the public and addressing this crisis and in the process provide billions of dollars of relief to suffering communities as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement.
McKesson, also named in the suit, said it would continue to defend itself in litigation.
“Our company plays an important but limited role in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and any suggestion that McKesson drove demand for opioids in this country reflects a fundamental misunderstanding and mischaracterization of our role as a distributor,” said Sunny Rodriguez, a company spokeswoman.
City Commissioner Jim Gray concerns with some of the defendants named including CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, companies he said were good community partners.
“The other part that’s missing in this is the doctors who prescribed that,” Gray said. “This feels like nothing more than a money grab on our part.”
Mayor Buddy Dyer mentioned similar concerns in the previous reluctance to file suit but said with settlement talks underway it was time to join. “It’s going to be one of the biggest issues we confront moving forward,” Dyer said.