Osceola County sues more than 20 pharmaceutical companies

By Stephanie Bechara, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 07, 2018, 5:59 PM EST

A Central Florida county is the first to sue more than 20 pharmaceutical companies due to the opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit claims these “pill mills” have created a financial burden on Osceola County.

Joe Chavez volunteers at the Transition House in St. Cloud, a facility that helps folks get clean. Chavez has been sober for a year and a half now, as he is recovering from substance abuse.

“When I first got here, I didn’t really like it, but a gentleman here told me give it a month, and you will change your mind,” Chavez explained. “And sure enough, I have been here since.”

It doesn’t shock Chavez that Osceola County is in the middle of litigation with 21 pharmaceutical companies regarding the opioid crisis. Thomas Griffin, the Chief Executive Officer of the Transition House, said he’s received an influx of patients.

“Emergency rooms are severely impacted, jails are impacted all of it. There is no one who has not been impacted in a very negative fashion,” Griffin said.

The lawsuit reads: “This case is about one thing: corporate greed. In the complaint filed, you can see a graph that shows there’s been a decrease in overdose deaths within the state, but Osceola County's rate has still gone up.”

“Obviously there is the responsibility of the pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing the pills, but there’s also responsibility in a lot of the physicians who wrote up the prescriptions and allowed the access,” Griffin said.

Chavez said he would like to see a solution to this problem, maybe even be part of it himself — perhaps by creating something like the Transition House, which has helped him so much along the way.

“We need more people to help us and others to get this help,” he said.

Spectrum News 13 also reached out to some of the pharmaceutical companies getting sued by the county. These are their statements:

Janssen Pharmaceuticals

Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible. The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among this class of medications.

Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues that must be addressed. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis.

Jessica Castles Smith, spokesperson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Purdue Pharma

“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.”

John Puskar, Director of Public Affairs, Purdue Pharma L.P.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries

"Teva is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines, and we recognize the critical public health issues impacting communities across the U.S. as a result of illegal drug use as well as the misuse and abuse of opioids that are available legally by prescription. To that end, we take a multi-faceted approach to this complex issue;  we work to educate communities and healthcare providers on appropriate medicine use and prescribing, we comply closely with all relevant federal and state regulations regarding these medicines, and, through our R&D pipeline, we are developing non-opioid treatments that have the potential to bring relief to patients in chronic pain. Teva also collaborates closely with other stakeholders, including providers and prescribers, regulators, public health officials and patient advocates, to understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse without sacrificing patients’ needed access to pain medicine."

Kaelan Hollon, Sr. Director of Communications, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries