TAMPA, Fla. - Flanked by law enforcement, lawmakers and others, State Attorney General Pam Bondi announced a lawsuit that blames five manufacturers and four distributors for Florida's opioid crisis.
The manufacturers - Purdue, Endo, Janssen, Cephalon, and Allergan - are alleged to have "funded front groups to disseminate information about the use of opioids for chronic pain," Bondi said before pulling out two books as an example, including one targeting military veterans.
"They employed medical professionals to act as opinion leaders throughout the country to promote their dangerous products," she continued. "They published misinformation in the books I showed you, pamphlets and websites downplaying the addictive nature of these dangerous drugs."
The distributors - AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, Cardinal, and Mallinckrodt - are alleged to have "assisted with deceptive marketing and failed to prevent the diversion of opioids in our state," said Bondi, adding that they "did not properly assess Florida customers to determine if their opioid orders were valid" as well as failing to report suspicious orders and continuing to fill those orders after being warned by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Bondi described the suit, filed in Pasco County, as "one of the most comprehensive" in the country against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
"I truly feel like today, by filing this, we have come full circle, and now the people who started this, the people who created this, the manufacturers of these drugs and the distributors of these drugs who pushed them will be held responsible," Bondi said during an event at Riverside Recovery Center in Tampa.
The suit doesn't list a monetary settlement but Bondi said the state is seeking "millions, billions probably" for costs related to the opioid crisis, including care for drug-addicted babies, decreased tax revenue from addicted adults unable to work, drug treatment, law enforcement, medical examiners and state foster services.
"We can't put monetary value on loss of life and the amount of grief that this crisis has caused thousands of Florida families," Bondi said. "But we can ask these companies to do the right thing now."
Florida is the latest to join hundreds of other lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors, including more than 400 by cities, counties, states and Native American tribes across the country.
All of the cases are being overseen by Dan Aaron Polster, a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio.
Polster wants to have a settlement in place by the end of the year, according to the N.Y. Times.
For now, Bondi has assembled a legal team that includes Drake Martin, who negotiated an $18.7 billion settlement - $3.25 billion of which went to Florida - with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Other attorneys on the team include Rich Newsome, Clif Curry and Robin Trupp, all of Tampa, and Kellog, Hansen, Todd, Figel and Frederick, a Washington D.C.-based firm.
"You always want to settle, you always want to negotiate instead of prolonged litigation," Bondi said. "But we're sending a message, number one, that we are fully prepared to go to war and we will take this to the end and we have the best team assembled in the country to do it."
Most of the state's top attorneys wouldn't take on the case due to a state law that caps private lawyer fees at $50 million, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
But the cap wasn't an issue as more than 50 firms applied to take on the case, Bondi said.
"These firms deserve a lot of money because they invest millions and millions and millions of their own money into defending these pharmaceutical companies and distributors," she said. "Their litigation war chest, you can't imagine how large it is for these big companies. So these firms are fronting the bill on the front end for us. Not one firm that we spoke to had a problem working within the guidelines of the laws we have in Florida."
Despite the lawsuit, Bondi said negotiations are ongoing.
"We never want to shut out negotiations," she said. "We want to do what's best for Florida so we're still negotiating. We're never, never going to stop negotiating, but we're fully prepared to go to trial if we need to."
10News streamed Bondi's remarks live on the 10News Facebook page:
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