Bondi holds drug in­dus­try ac­count­able

Tampa Bay Times - - Opinion -

Florida At­tor­ney Gen­eral Pam Bondi’s law­suit against the na­tion’s largest drug mak­ers and dis­trib­u­tors marks a mo­ment of awak­en­ing in the state’s bat­tle to re­cover from the opioid cri­sis. In blunt, force­ful lan­guage, Bondi ac­cuses these com­pa­nies of spark­ing the deadly opioid epi­demic through sham mar­ket­ing that reaped the de­fen­dants “bil­lions of dol­lars” while caus­ing “im­mense harm to the state of Florida.” This is an im­por­tant step in hold­ing an in­dus­try ac­count­able for the in­cred­i­ble dam­age that has wracked com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies.

Bondi un­veiled the l aw­suit at a news con­fer­ence this week where she was flanked by police, fire­fight­ers and fam­i­lies of opioid vic­tims, un­der­scor­ing her in­tent to put a hu­man face to a cri­sis that has killed some 10,000 Florid­i­ans at a pace of about 15 a day in 2016. The suit tar­gets some of the big­gest drug man­u­fac­tur­ers in the coun­try, in­clud­ing Pur­due Pharma, which makes the drugs OxyCon­tin and Di­lau­did, and Endo Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which makes Per­co­cet and Opana. The de­fen­dants also in­clude the drug dis­trib­u­tors Amerisource-Ber­gen, Car­di­nal Health and McKes­son. Bondi said the state has suf­fered mas­sive losses in lives, health and pro­duc­tiv­ity, and the costs have been sig­nif­i­cant for law enforcement, first re­spon­ders and other por­tions of the so­cial safety net. “It’s time the de­fen­dants pay for the pain and the de­struc­tion that they have caused,” Bondi said.

The long-awaited law­suit, filed in Pasco County, ac­cuses the com­pa­nies of vi­o­lat­ing their duty to keep opi­oids from be­ing mis­used, al­leg­ing they en­gaged in de­cep­tive trade prac­tices and amounted to a pub­lic nui­sance. It ac­cuses drug man­u­fac­tur­ers of mis­rep­re­sent­ing the drugs to physi­cians and con­sumers to in­crease opioid pre­scrip­tions. Drug mak­ers used front groups that ap­peared to be neu­tral third-par­ties to pro­mote the use of opi­oids as safe. The suit also claims that drug mak­ers paid “key opin­ion lead­ers” with speak­ing fees, food and travel to lend an air of le­git­i­macy

within their pro­fes­sion about the use of opi­oids for pain re­lief.

The dis­trib­u­tors, Bondi said, “un­con­scionably vi­o­lated” their duty to pre­vent opi­oids from be­ing di­verted to non-med­i­cal uses by “ship­ping hundreds of mil­lions of opi­oids into Florida with­out sound­ing the alarm or stop­ping the ship­ments.” These com­pa­nies knew their cus­tomers were or­der­ing an in­or­di­nately high num­ber of opi­oids, the suit states, but “re­fused to re­port the sus­pi­cious” ac­tiv­ity, turn­ing “a blind eye to this ac­tiv­ity in or­der to earn higher prof­its.”

A spokesman for Pur­due Pharma said they “vig­or­ously deny these al­le­ga­tions and look for­ward to the op­por­tu­nity to present our de­fense.” In that spirit, both sides should com­mit to trans­parency as the dis­cov­ery process pro­ceeds so the pub­lic has the fullest pic­ture pos­si­ble of how this cri­sis evolved. Bondi’s of­fice has an obli­ga­tion to keep the record open and accessible just as the de­fen­dants have an in­ter­est in an­swer­ing the charges pub­licly.

Bondi has been crit­i­cized for tak­ing so long to file the case. But the law­suit adds to the court cases against the drug in­dus­try across the coun­try, a crit­i­cal mass that is more rel­e­vant to the is­sue than the tim­ing of le­gal ac­tion by any in­di­vid­ual state. The at­tor­ney gen­eral de­serves credit for a ro­bust com­plaint that aptly cap­tures the hu­man costs of the opioid cri­sis. Now Florida needs to vig­or­ously pros­e­cute its position in court.

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