City of Sarasota suing pharmaceutical giants in wake of opioid crisis

Sarasota County

The city of Sarasota is taking on the pharmaceutical giants.

Officials have filed a lawsuit, saying the companies bear the blame for the national opioid epidemic.

City officials say this is about more than just recovering money, it’s about saving lives.

Federal officials say in 2017, more than 3,200 Floridians died from an opioid overdose. 

Jessica Zeilman easily could have been included in that statistic, and her story of addiction is all too common.

“I was hit head-on by a drunk driver in my early 20s, and I was taking pain medication for about 10 years,” said Zeilman.

“I started using heroin. I started using cocaine. I started just running from everything because I didn’t understand how something that was prescribed to me would cause all these things to happen.”

In recent years, prescription opioid abuse has hit epidemic levels in this country.

“There are tremendous costs involved and cities around the country have put their foot down and say, ‘let’s bring this to an end,’” said city manager Tom Barwin.

The city of Sarasota is suing a number of pharmaceutical giants. These companies sell prescription opioids including brand-name drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet.

In the suit, the city argues that these drugs were traditionally only used to treat short term acute pain and for end-of-life care.

Beginning in the late 90s, the suit alleges these companies began marketing to persuade a wide swath of health care providers and doctors that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain.

The city claims in recent years, these companies used biased medical studies and deception to support their belief that opioids were not addictive.

The suit says the defendants spent millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioid use while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.

The city argues these efforts contributed to the opioid crisis facing this country.

Sarasota has spent incredible amounts of money on increased law enforcement expenses, mental health treatment and emergency services.

“We’ve had situations with this opoid crisis where our EMS responders will revive people two or three times in a week,” said Barwin.

If the city wins the suit, they will invest the money into treatment programs.

“This will be an opportunity to give us a fresh start,” said Barwin.

“We are hopeful that our brother and sister cities will agree that whatever the settlement amount is we invest it right in to dealing with this substance abuse challenge, more in prevention and treatment.

Today, Zeilman is happy and free from the bonds of addiction. While she supports the suit, she feels the pharmaceutical companies don’t deserve all the blame.

“There is a responsibility on the patient to ask questions, to make sure you know what you’re getting into,” said Zeilman.

Officials from the pharmaceutical companies listed have not responded to our requests for comment. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

April 24 2021 08:00 am

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