With a unanimous 7-0 vote, the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners decided on Tuesday to join the growing list of cities nationwide in declaring the opioid crisis a public nuisance.
The vote, which comes less than a month after commissioners asked Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Nieman to draft the ordinance highlighting the scourge of opiate addiction in Palm Beach County, pushes forward county officials’ quest to recover the public money they have spent and are continuing to spend battling the epidemic.
Commissioners first discussed the ordinance publicly the week after Neiman sued 29 drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies on the county’s behalf. The list of defendants includes corporate giants such as Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens and CVS.
“It was basically a formality, but a formality that we needed to make moving forward in helping recoup some of these costs,” County Mayor Melissa McKinlay said after the vote
The lawsuit claims the companies’ negligence, fraud and deceptive marketing practices fueled the crisis, which has devastated families locally and across the country and contributed to problems like homelessness and the increased need for foster care and emergency services.
The local public nuisance ordinance mirrors actions from nearby counties, such as Osceola County, and county governments for cities such as New Orleans, Wichita, Kan., and others around the nation who also have filed large-scale lawsuits against many of the same companies.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also filed a complaint in Pasco County court Tuesday, accusing opioid manufacturers and distributors of using lies and omissions in a campaign to boost opioid prescriptions.
“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. “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.”
Bondi in the suit claims the companies violated public nuisance laws and also violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and the Florida RICO Act.
Palm Beach County’s suit claims that the “highly deceptive and unfair marketing campaign” the opioid companies have used began as early as the late 1990s and continues today.
Some similar lawsuits around the nation already have resulted in settlements, but critics say county taxpayers could be left splitting significant legal costs if the opioid companies win here.
One of the speakers at Bondi’s press conference announcing the suit was the mother of Brandi Meshad, a Florida high school student who died of a drug overdose after stints in rehab and a sober boarding school for an addiction to opiates and Xanax. Bondi has said that Brandi’s photograph hangs in her office and she has worn the 18-year-old’s bracelet while speaking in public.
Meshad’s case is also close to McKinlay’s heart. Meshad was her younger sister’s best friend.
“I still remember getting the text from Amy saying she died,” McKinlay said Tuesday. “And to see her mother speaking today was so full circle for me. It’s just gratifying to see this momentum.”
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