The opioid epidemic has caused financial and emotional strain on the people of Delray Beach, and its leaders want accountability and restitution.
That’s why the Delray Beach commission Tuesday decided to sue drug makers for the part they played in the heroin crisis. It is the first city in Florida to take such action.
“With virtually no help from our federal government and little from our state … cities like ours are now frantically searching for answers for our own population,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “We’re right for turning our eyes to those who are known conspirators in this ongoing atrocity.”
Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, a national firm with an office in Boca Raton, will represent the city in a lawsuit against at least eight pharmaceutical makers and distributors, including Purdue Pharma and McKesson Corp.
These companies, the law firm says, downplayed the addictive nature of opioids and forced the burden of dealing with the resultant overdoses on state, county and city governments.
“They went out and said that opioids are less than 1 percent addictive. That is obviously not true … ” said Mark J. Dearman, a partner in the firm. “This is a playbook right out of (Big) Tobacco.”
The lawsuit won’t cost the city a dime, as Robbins Geller is fronting the bill, but could net millions in damages.
It costs Delray Beach about $2,000 in manpower and lifesaving material for every overdose, city officials say. And there were 690 overdoses last year.
While many, if not all, of those overdoses were heroin-related, the city may still have grounds to go after Big Pharma which produces opioid pain pills because they are “the underlying problem,” Dearman said.
Between 72 and 82 opioid prescriptions are written for every 100 people in Florida, the law firm reports.
“The (Federal Drug Administration) said this stuff should be limited in use,” Dearman said.
And Delray Beach, widely known as the recovery capital of the country, has bore the brunt of the ensuing epidemic.
“Sober homes have brought this problem to your backyard like nowhere else,” Dearman said.
City leaders agreed they wouldn’t wait for other plaintiffs to join the lawsuit.
“I don’t see any downside to being the one starting rather than waiting for anyone to figure out what they’re going to do,” Glickstein said.
It isn’t clear how long the lawsuit will last.
Other cities, such as Chicago, Ill. and Dayton, Oh., have filed similar ongoing lawsuits, but Delray Beach would be the first in Florida.
The law firm anticipates other governing bodies will join as plaintiffs.
The lawsuit will seek damages based on the claims that drug makers and distributors violated state consumer protection, public nuisance, negligence and unjust enrichment laws.
Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson pointed to news that a 10-year-old Miami boy died last month of an apparent opioid overdose, one of the youngest victims of the drug crisis, as reason for filing the lawsuit.
“We have to do something,” she said.
Said Glickstein: “No pathogen, virus or war on this country’s soil has caused the death and destruction as the scourge of opioid addiction.”