LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is going after drug makers, saying they are responsible for the opioid crisis plaguing Florida and the nation.
On Tuesday, she announced the state is suing eight pharmaceutical companies. She claims the companies used deceptive practices to make their drugs appeal to a broader audience.
"They employed medical professionals to act as opinion leaders throughout the country to promote their dangerous products," said Bondi. "If we continue this tragic path, it's hard to imagine any Florida family that will not be impacted by this."
Two of the companies have distribution centers in Lakeland: Cardinal Health and McKesson.
A McKesson spokesperson would not comment on the pending litigation but emailed this statement to WFLA:
"McKesson delivers life-saving medicines to millions of Americans each day. As a company, we are deeply concerned by the impact the opioid epidemic is having on families and communities across our nation. We are committed to engaging with all who share our dedication to acting with urgency and working together to end this national crisis. We maintain - and continuously enhance - strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion within the pharmaceutical supply chain. We only distribute controlled substances, including opioids, to DEA-registered and state-licensed pharmacies. For decades, controlled substances ordered by pharmacies in the U.S. - including both orders that are shipped and those that are deemed suspicious and blocked - have been reported to the DEA for their internal database. McKesson reports hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders to the DEA each year. We are working with others to advance a series of company initiatives focused on helping to address the opioid epidemic, support the formation of a foundation dedicated to combating the crisis, offer thoughtful public policy recommendations - including the Prescription Safety-Alert System (RxSAS) technology proposal - and to support innovative programs and partnerships that we believe can have a meaningful impact on this challenging issue."
The senior vice president of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, whose members include McKesson and Cardinal Health, sent us this statement:
“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”
WFLA spoke with a Lakeland doctor who helps treat people battling drug addiction.
"People come in because they have gotten to their wit's end," Dr. James Andersen said. He treats addict at Lakeland Centres, a Methadone clinic.
Dr. Andersen said he believes big pharmaceutical companies are partially to blame.
"I think the companies do have some responsibility in looking out the window and seeing how many prescriptions are going out their building. How many doses of medicine are going out their building?" Dr. Andersen said. "I also think they will argue, the doctors are the ones writing the prescriptions."
Dr. Andersen said he believes suing the drug makers is only a small step towards ending the epidemic.
"I would appreciate from our state government, whether it’s from the governor or attorney general, a very comprehensive plan overall," he said.
Dr. Andersen also said he hopes the state will devote the money to addicts who truly need it.
AG Bondi isn't ruling out a settlement in this case.
"Our damages include addicted adults unable to work, decreased tax revenue, drug treatment, law enforcement, medical examiners and increases in state foster care services," said Bondi, who says if a settlement isn't reached, she is ready to go to court.
To read the state's lawsuit in its entirety, click here.