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Florida sues 5 major drug companies over opioids

May 15, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi launched a “comprehensive” lawsuit Tuesday aimed at punishing several major drug manufacturers and distributors, contending they were responsible for “pain and destruction” and a surge in opioid overdose deaths.

Florida filed its lawsuit the same day that five other states sued pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, the maker of oxycontin, and accused the company of using deceptive marketing to boost drug sales that fueled opioid deaths.

But Florida’s lawsuit, filed in a state court in Pasco County, targets four other drug companies along with Purdue Pharma as well as companies that distribute drugs. It alleges that drug companies misrepresented the dangers of opioid drugs and that distributors were negligent in allowing large numbers of drugs to be sold to the public. An estimated 15 Floridians die each day due to opioids.

“This crisis is by far the worst I have ever seen,” said Bondi, who was a prosecutor before she was elected statewide in 2010. “It’s time the defendants paid for the pain and destruction they have caused.”

The lawsuit accuses the companies of racketeering and violating the state’s deceptive practices law. It also alleges that drug manufacturers used front groups and paid experts to tout the drugs as a use for chronic pain. Bondi did not put a dollar figure on what the state wants to recover but said it could be in the “billions.”

Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, said it would “vigorously deny” the claims and defend itself.

“We are disappointed that after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help these states address the opioid crisis, this group of attorneys general have unilaterally decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process,” said company spokesman Bob Josephson in an email about all the lawsuits.

Some of the other companies named in Florida’s lawsuit said they follow state and federal law and that they are working with officials to combat opioid abuse. Wanda Moebius, a spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, said the company marketed and promoted its medicines appropriately.

“The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated,” Moebius said in an email.

Florida officials who gathered with Bondi to announce the lawsuit angrily denounced the drug manufacturers. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said the companies were no different than a “drug cartel” and that they needed to have their assets frozen so that company officials can’t go on their yachts.

Several Democrats, however, faulted Bondi, a Republican, for waiting until the final months of her term in office to file a lawsuit. Hundreds of local governments have already sued drug manufacturers. A federal judge in Ohio last month announced plans to commence trials in 2019 despite attempts by both sides to reach a settlement.

“Unfortunately, today’s action is too little too late for the families in our state who have been devastated by a preventable epidemic had action been taken years ago before we reached this tipping point,” said Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat running for attorney general.

Florida is turning to private attorneys to help with its lawsuit. The state is hiring attorneys from five different firms to assist with the lawsuit, but the goal is to have them paid from any proceeds won in the case. Florida law caps the amount the firms can earn in a contingency lawsuit at $50 million, although the contract caps their fees at 3.5 percent of what the state collects.

Reporter Ken Ritter contributed to this story from Las Vegas.

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