The cost of treating opioid addicts: 5 Florida groups aim to cash in vs. Big Pharma

Lawsuit blames industry for misleading marketing practices

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Five of Florida’s seven behavioral health managing agencies are joining the wave of lawsuits against Big Pharma for its part in the opioid crisis. 

The lawsuit blames the industry for misleading marketing practices, which contributed to the over-prescribing of painkillers.

The Apalachee Center in the state’s capital is on the front line of the opioid crisis. 

Over the past five years, opioid-addicted patients have gradually become a bigger part of the center’s overall costs, said Dr. Jay Reeve, the president of the Apalachee Center.

“Between 15 and 18 percent of all the folks that come into our detox unit are coming because of opioid-related issues,” Reeve said.

The funding for the center is distributed by Big Bend Community Based Care, led by Mike Watkins, who said state and federal funding haven’t kept up with the growing cost of the crisis.

“We have about 15 people a day dying in the state of Florida for opioid abuse, and those monies aren't coming even close to the expenses that we're bearing,” said Watkins, chief executive officer of Big Bend.

Big Bend is one of the five managing agencies in the state that has filed the suit against Big Pharma. These groups want to collect the cost of treating addicts. The suit blames drugmakers’ marketing practices for the rampant over-prescribing of opioids.

“The manufacturers and the distributors worked very specifically to market a product that was unsafe,” Watkins said.

The result: more addicts, which means more people are in need of services -- and taxpayers are on the hook for the costs.

The exact cost to taxpayers hasn’t been calculated yet, but nationwide, the crisis is believed to cost more than $100 billion a year.

All but two of the managing agencies in the state have signed on to the lawsuit.

More than 200 cities and counties across the country have also filed lawsuits blaming Big Pharma for costs associated with the opioid crisis.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is investigating the companies as well, which could result in a suit on behalf of the state.