Jacksonville mulls lawsuit against opioid producers - Florida Politics

Jacksonville mulls lawsuit against opioid producers

Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford has been instrumental in spearheading Jacksonville’s response to its opioid overdose epidemic.

He was successful in formulating a pilot program for in-patient treatment for addicts who are ready to accept help, and he is now chairman of a special Council committee on the opioid epidemic.

As is typical with Gulliford, he is seizing the opportunity to do substantial work in that capacity, as exemplified by a meeting he hosted Thursday at 1 p.m. in City Council chambers exploring a potential lawsuit against opioid producers.

Accompanied by other Council members, though none of them are in Council Leadership, Gulliford noted going in that Delray Beach is filing a similar action.

Delray Beach, in suing opioid manufacturers, claims that their product spawned the city’s heroin epidemic, with each overdose costing the city $2,000 — a number that Gulliford said didn’t sound unreasonable, given the costs of transport and treatment for each victim.

Gulliford noted the impact on the city’s first responders, and the anticipated 700 deaths from overdoses in Jacksonville this year, as something unsustainable.

“We are responding, we are treating, we are putting them out on the streets most of the time — it is a cycle,” Gulliford said.

Jacksonville does have a pilot treatment program, costing $1.4M over six months and involving in-patient treatment for overdose victims. But this will, at most, help to slow a gruesome tide.

Making a presentation at the meeting was the firm representing Delray Beach: Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, a firm which has specialized in class action consumer protection suits, including a successful action against Enron years for billions of dollars.

Mark Dearman of the firm noted that Palm Beach County is also exploring a similar action as Delray, along with “other municipalities in several states.” While these are not class action suits, Dearman contended that class action may be a result of coordination among various plaintiff jurisdictions.

Dearman made a hard-sell pitch as to the “concrete reasons” his firm is “the best for this case.”

Those reasons include “record recoveries” in class action cases, including against some of the biggest companies in the world, bringing in “tens of millions of dollars” in recovery.

The company has $20M in cash reserves and a “credit line that has never been touched,” which are resources presented as unique value adds.

The case would be predicated on claims of deceptive marketing, with a 100-page complaint detailing the allegations regarding to each company over the last couple of decades, when the marketing started of palliatives for “undertreated pain.” From there, doctors were pushed to prescribe these medicines.

The burden of private profits went to the public, with more money needed for treatment and public safety, all a result of what is being called “unjust enrichment.”

The case could be filed in state or federal court, firm representatives said, though they were cagey about discussing many specifics — including standing — in a public meeting.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel said that while a shade meeting may be difficult without a pending case, there are “measures to handle those conversations” beforehand — including Gabriel meeting with firm representatives and then briefing Council members.

Councilman John Crescimbeni urged that course of action, given the amount of uncertainties.

One positive: the contingency basis of the firm’s pitch, one of many factors Gabriel will vet before making recommendations.

With Jacksonville dealing with mounting evidence of the human toll of the opioid crisis (roughly two casualties a day, with Jacksonville having the second highest rate in Florida of addicted babies, the 24th highest rate of abuse nationally, and so on), and no end to the carnage in sight, it remains to be seen if the city will be successful in holding multinational pharmaceutical companies responsible for the havoc they’ve wrought.

Gulliford is adamant.

“Dadgummit, I think they’re responsible,” Gulliford said regarding Big Pharma and the overdose crisis, which has seen people go from legit prescriptions to “over a cliff” toward addiction to heroin and fentanyl.

Gulliford urges pushing through on the case, but there are a lot of steps before that comes to pass.

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