By Jane Smith
On Dec. 21, Delray Beach became the first Florida government entity to sue major drugmakers and wholesalers for their roles in causing the opioid epidemic playing out on its streets, officials said.
Its federal lawsuit joins others filed by nearly 200 cities, counties and states nationwide. Palm Beach County and scores of Florida cities and counties are expected to file similar lawsuits.
“The city has done as much as possible, without further state and federal legislative help, to ensure those seeking addiction treatment are not victimized, while also protecting our residents through regulation and criminal prosecution,” said Cary Glickstein, Delray Beach mayor.
Why is the city suing the opioid drugmakers and distributors?
“The data indicates that over 80 percent of drug addiction starts with opioid pain medications that have been negligently marketed, distributed, prescribed and supplied to people,” Glickstein said.
Delray Beach has become a popular recovery destination for companies marketing the city through websites and glossy brochures featuring pictures of its beach and palms.
The named defendants are major drugmakers and wholesalers, some appearing on the Fortune 500 list of top companies or Fortune’s list of the wealthiest American families. They include Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, America’s most-prescribed pain reliever.
Delray Beach is severely affected by opioid abuse, officials said.
For each overdose call, the city spends nearly $2,000 on first-responder staff time and necessary lifesaving equipment such as the drug Narcan, used to reverse an overdose, according to the lawsuit.
In 2016, Delray Beach police responded to 690 overdose calls — up more than 250 percent compared to 2015 — and 65 people died from overdoses, according to Police Department records. For the first half of 2017, police responded to 412 overdose calls that resulted in 37 deaths.
The city’s Fire-Rescue Department responded to 748 overdose calls in 2016, according to the lawsuit.
For 2016, Delray Beach estimates it spent about $3 million responding to overdoses, including increased public safety and public works expenses, hiring additional city employees and offering mental health counseling and workers compensation for its first responders, the lawsuit states.
The expenses, the lawsuit claims, would not have been necessary if the major drugmakers and wholesalers had followed state and federal laws.
Delray Beach Police reported a nearly 10 percent drop in opioid overdoses and a slightly more than 12 percent fall in fatal overdoses between 2016 and 2017. Chief Jeff Goldman said the numbers made him “cautiously excited” because he knows that a bad batch of heroin mixed with fentanyl can cause the overdoses to increase.
Goldman credits the decrease in part to the police department hiring a service population advocate in late June. Ariana Ciancio, who also helps mentally ill and homeless people, said she’s assisted 27 people to get into treatment or a sober home and referred another 67 to social service resources.
As of Jan. 2, none of the defendants had filed a response to the Delray Beach lawsuit.