In 2011, with the best of intentions, the Legislature lowered the legal boom on medical clinics that made it too easy for people to legally obtain and abuse opioid painkillers. By all accounts, the law did reduce the number of these “pill mill” clinics. What it didn’t do, an ever-rising tide of opioid addiction and deaths in the Sunshine State suggests, is blunt the appetite of opioid abusers. This experience has been repeated around the nation.
Now, governments across the U.S., including the state of Florida, are taking a new tack: suing the makers of the powerful and highly addictive opioids. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who promised to sue the drug makers in early April followed through on May 15. She filed the legal action before Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court Judge Declan Mansfield. The Florida suit contains an allegation seen in legal actions filed by other states, counties, cities and even medical providers: That the drug companies downplayed the addiction risk of opioid such as oxycodone in marketing the drugs to pain sufferers and doctors. In addition, the drug makers were ignoring suspiciously large orders for opioids. As a result, the suits assert, the drug makers should be forced to compensate the plaintiffs’ costs of dealing with the opioid epidemic.
If the plaintiffs can make their cases, the opioid suit payout could dwarf the $206 billion tobacco companies agreed to pay to get a master settlement in 1998 with plaintiffs who alleged smoking had caused lung cancer and other ailments. We hope, however, that researchers come up with better methods of treating persistent and severe pain that carry less of an addiction risk.