No more ‘Moody’ blues: Senate clears path for state’s opioid lawsuit

Ashley Moody
Attorney General Ashley Moody worked closely with lawmakers.

Legislation that will assist Attorney General Ashley Moody in her efforts to sue drug manufacturers for their role in the opioid crisis was OK’d Friday by the Legislature.

Moody visited the Senate floor to see the House measure (HB 1253) finally passed there in a unanimous 39-0 vote.

And Gov. Ron DeSantis already expressed support for the measure earlier this week at an event in Brevard County.

The bill will only give Moody and her lawyers information from the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) on the age, county, city, and ZIP code of Floridians who were prescribed opioid medication.

The bill “will allow her to have more access to some of the underlying information that they need to do those lawsuits so that’s something that I’ll sign, if that gets on my desk,” DeSantis said.
The PDMP was created to prevent “doctor shopping” by drug addicts and traffickers. That information could help provide evidence in civil cases.

Sen. Tom Lee, the bill’s sponsor, praised Moody on Friday for her work in addressing privacy concerns with the legislation.

The bill had stalled in the Rules Committee, chaired by Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto, who initially said she wouldn’t hold a hearing for it out of patients’ privacy concerns. Others in the chamber had agreed.

But Lee suggested the pharmaceutical industry had worked to exploit those fears in hopes of blocking any action.

“I know all of you have had a bill at least on one occasion that had some infirmities in it,”Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, said. “And industry didn’t like it but wouldn’t help you fix it because their goal was to kill it.

“…That’s the story of this bill.”

Other members alluded to that as well.

Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, both originally feared Moody’s lawsuit could expose citizens’ personal information.

“Even in a crisis situation, we have to be mindful of people’s privacy,” Gibson said. But after meetings with Moody, Gibson said she felt comfortable with the bill.

Lee also credited Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican and future House Speaker, for getting the bill passed there with a 111-0 vote.

“He put legal energy into the bill to overcome objections that were raised,” Lee said.

Moody said the information in the database is needed to demonstrate that highly addictive prescription drugs “were being recklessly distributed.”

Her legal team could have gone to court to try to get such information, but that would have created a years-long delay and increased the costs to the state, the attorney general said.

“I can tell you from my time in the legal system, timing is a crucial factor when you are litigating, so it’s important for us to get the information,” she added.

Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, said the legislation was five years in the making. As a House member, she had tried to get similar bills passed but fell short.

As the state has wrestled with a huge opioid-overdose problem, verging on a public health crisis, Harrell said the legislation will be important in recouping lost resources.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who speaks openly about his recovery from drug addiction, hailed the proposal.

“We are holding the bad actors accountable, those who have participated in this scheme of pill mills, and those who have participated in the trafficking of opioids,” Rouson said.

Moody later released her own statement: “Today, elected officials in Florida stand united in the fight to end the opioid crisis. There is not a corner of our state that has not been ravaged by the death and destruction caused by opioid abuse, and with this legislation we will make sure those responsible for fueling this deadly epidemic are held accountable.

“The limited information the legislation allows the Attorney General’s Office to access will be used under protective order in the state’s ongoing litigation against the nation’s largest opioid companies to help further prove the corporations’ roles in the crisis.”

The attorney general’s office last year filed the lawsuit to try to recoup millions of dollars the state has spent because of the opioid epidemic. The lawsuit was filed against manufacturers, distributors and sellers of opioids and includes a series of allegations, including misrepresentation about opioid use and filling suspicious orders for the drugs.


The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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