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Pam Bondi lawsuit accuses opioid industry of racketeering

Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a racketeering lawsuit Tuesday, blaming five major pharmaceutical companies for instigating the opioid drug crisis and alleging “a campaign of misrepresentations and omissions” about the powerful painkillers to doctors and consumers.

Bondi’s office filed the 54-page complaint in Pasco County, which it identified as among the state’s hardest hit areas, with the highest overdose mortality rate between 2004 and 2012.

“We are in the midst of a national opioid crisis claiming 175 lives a day nationally and 15 lives a day in Florida, and I will not tolerate anyone profiting from the pain and suffering of Floridians,” Bondi said in a written statement.

“The complaint I filed today seeks to hold some of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors responsible for their role in this crisis and seeks payment for the pain and destruction their actions have caused Florida and its citizens,” she said.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam appeared alongside Bondi at a news conference, held Tuesday afternoon at Riverside Recovery of Tampa, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

“This lawsuit will result in the resources for additional treatment, prevention, awareness, additional facilities, like this, additional tools and support for the men and women in law enforcement, so that we can break the hold that this opioid crisis has on our state and on our nation,” Putnam said.

The lawsuit names Purdue Pharma L.P.; Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Cephalon Inc.; and Allergan PLC.

It also names the following drug distributors: AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp.; Cardinal Health Inc.; McKesson Corp.; and Mallinckrodt LLC.

The complaint alleges violations of Florida RICO and unfair trade practices laws, plus negligence.

It seeks unspecified monetary damages — including treble damages, designed to discourage egregious misconduct; restitution on behalf of state agencies and consumers; disgorgement of “ill-gotten proceeds;” divestment of any business or real assets linked to the alleged misconduct; and forfeiture of property used to promote the scheme.

“The state of Florida brings this civil action to hold the defendants accountable for unconscionably creating the state of Florida’s opioid public health and financial crisis,” the complaint says.

“The defendants reaped billions of dollars in revenues while causing immense harm to the state of Florida and its citizens, and now they must pay for their role in the crisis and act to remediate the crisis.”

Pasco and Pinellas counties, comprising FDLE District 6, recorded the highest number of oxycodone deaths in the state during 2016, according to the document. That same year, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office treated nearly 2,00 inmates for opioid addiction. Last year, someone overdosed in Pasco County an average of once every three days.

“The disproportionately high overdose rates were the direct, readily foreseeable result of the shockingly high amounts of opioids which have been funneled into Pasco County throughout the crisis,” the complaint says.

“For example, a single pharmacy in Hudson, Florida — a Pasco County town of 34,000 people — purchased 2.2 million opioid pills in just one year (2011). That same year, another pharmacy dispensed more than 1.4 million opioids in Port Richey, Florida.”

Bondi’s office alleged a “strategic campaign of misrepresentations about the risks and benefits of opioid use to physicians, other prescribers, consumers, pharmacies, and state governmental agencies.”

This, the complaint alleges, included the use of “front organizations” and medical professionals hired to promote opioids without acknowledging that they actually served as the manufacturers’ “mouthpieces.”

“Because they are so dangerous and addictive, Florida imposes obligations on both manufacturers and distributors of opioids aimed at preventing the misuse of these drugs and their diversion into the marketplace for uses other than legitimate medical uses,” the complaint says.

“Because of the actions of the defendants in violating these duties, the closed chain of supply broke down in Florida, leading to a massive public health crisis that continues to ravage the state.”

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis issued a written statement endorsing the lawsuit and calling Bondi “a fearless warrior against the opioid epidemic.”

Update: Putnam said state GOP leaders, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sen. Wilton Simpson, Rep. Jim Boyd, and Bondi, have “led the way” in fighting opiates.

Gwen Graham, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, disputed that assessment.

“After years of inaction and with just months left in their terms, Pam Bondi, Adam Putnam and Republican leaders stood at a news conference today to take credit for a lawsuit that should have been filed years ago,” Graham said in a written statement.

“I’m glad they are finally taking this long overdue step but remain disappointed it took them so long to do so,” Graham said. “Under Lawton Chiles, Florida led the nation in suing big tobacco. Under Pam Bondi and Adam Putnam, we’re following behind other states — and Florida families have paid the price.”

Sean Shaw, a Democrat running for attorney general, issued the following statement:

“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. It is disheartening that it took eight years of warnings, thousands of unnecessary deaths, and for her time in office to be coming to an end for Attorney General Bondi to finally acknowledge that Floridians have been facing an overwhelming opioid crisis.

“As attorney general, I won’t wait until others have acted to be an advocate for Floridians who are suffering. Our state deserves a top legal officer who will lead in the face of a crisis, not one who will have to be pressured into acting in the best interests of our citizens.”

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Written By

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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