Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is pursuing a lawsuit against Walgreens, CVS and Insys, as well as a number of drug manufacturers, saying they all contributed to the opioid abuse and overdose death epidemic that has plagued Florida in recent years.
In an amended complaint (PDF) filed in Pasco County Circuit Court on November 16, Bondi accused the pharmacies, opioid manufacturers and distributors of endangering the public in a rush to increase the supply of opioids and thus their own profits.
Florida is one of many states and municipalities which have sued drug manufacturers, in recent months, seeking damages over the costs caused by the opioid crisis in the United States. Last year, centralized pretrial proceedings were established for all opioid cases that seek damages from manufacturers and distributors of the addictive narcotic medications, including Purdue, Teva/Cephalon, Janssen, Endo, Actavis, and Mallinckrodt, as well as distributors for the medication, including McKesson Corporation, Amerisource Bergen Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc.
There are currently more than 1,300 cases consolidated before U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in the Northern District of Ohio, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings. However, the litigation is focused on claims for damages stemming from improper marketing and distribution of opiate medications into cities, states and towns nationwide.
Florida’s complaint is filed at the state level, and is not part of the federal litigation. It was originally filed in May, but was amended and refiled last week to add Insys, CVS and Walgreens as defendants.
Insys’s marketing practices have been under investigation since December 2013, with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (DHHS-OIG) investigating the manufacturer of the painkiller Subsys, for possible illegal off-label marketing of the drug, after it catapulted past the $100 million sales mark despite being introduced with limited approval for cancer patients suffering from severe pain.
In June 2017, one former company manager, Elizabeth Gurrieri, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy in connection with the investigation. She is the second company employee to plead guilty to charges related to Subsys sales.
Florida’s complaint accuses Insys of providing kickbacks to doctors who prescribed Subsys, and accuses Walgreens and CVS of failing in their duty to stop suspicious opioid prescriptions, accusing them of distributing opioids at “unreasonable” quantities.
“We will continue to pursue those companies that played a role in creating the opioid crisis,” Bondi said in a press release. “Thousands of Floridians have suffered as a result of the actions of the defendants.”
Earlier this month, a report by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned that opioids caused the largest number of deaths last year of any illicit drug class since 2001, killing 72,000 people nationwide.
According to the findings, 72,000 people in the U.S. died of opioid overdoses in 2017. That’s a rate of about 200 overdoses per day, and is a significant increase from 174 people per day who died in 2016. Every year since 2011, drug-related deaths have outnumbered the deaths by firearms, auto accidents, suicide and murder.