BROWARD (CBSMiami) – Broward County commissioners are taking aim at Big Pharma over claims that the drug industry's efforts to create easy access to prescription drugs fueled an out-of-control opioid crisis taking a toll on lives and county's bottom lines.
Commissioners directed the county's attorney to recommend several law firms to handle litigation on behalf of the county. The initial batch of recommendations is due in early January.
By filing a lawsuit, the county hopes to recover some of the costs associated with dealing with the crisis like manpower for first responders, increased medical examiner expenses and costs associated with treating addicts and purchasing drugs like Narcan, which can reverse effects of an overdose.
County Commissioner Nan Rich said the county's medical examiner estimates that hundreds will die in the county this year due to the crisis and that the county's costs in dealing with the issue are skyrocketing.
"We don't have enough money in this county in our human services budget — I mean, we've had an increase this year — but we don't have enough money to take care of all the needs as a result of this human toll that's taking place here.
For parents, like Kristen Tersch of Fort Lauderdale, the opioid crisis is personal. Her son, Logan, died in June after overdosing on cocaine with fentanyl in it.
"As a parent, there's a lot of guilt, frustration and guilt, anger and confusion when you have an addict in your life," she said.
Tersch is surrounded by photos of her son, who struggled with addiction for more than a decade. She says during that time he went through rehab, halfway houses and prison, before being released in January. A little more than 5 months later, he was dead.
"We are going to have a tough time through this Christmas holiday," she said.
Tersch believes the county's move to explore suing the pharmaceutical companies is a good first step and she hopes any money recovered from the companies is spent dealing specifically with the crisis.
"I would hope that what they're looking for in reimbursement is used for addiction recovery, rehabilitation and so forth," she said.
She also hopes that by telling her painful story, she can help others with addicts in their lives.
"If it helps somebody else, if it helps a parent maybe take a look at her children, or someone in their life — it doesn't have to be a parent - I think it's important," Tersch said.
Pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma issued a statement on Broward's efforts saying,
"We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we've distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed the first FDA-approved opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense."
Broward County commissioners took another important step on the issue on Tuesday. They made it one of their top legislative priorities to work on it at the state level in the 2018 legislative session.
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