In a recent exposé for Mass Tort Nexus , Mark A. York connects the dots to show the part Florida has played in fueling the current opioid crisis, which has devastated communities nationwide. That connection began with the Sackler family — whose company Purdue Pharma created OxyContin, a highly addictive and now widely abused painkiller — and continued with regulatory failures in the Sunshine State that made it the home of the “Oxy Express.” The article’s most salient points show the extent to which Florida has played a part in driving the availability of opioids:
Yet neither the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took notice, nor did the Florida legislature act on the matter. And, tragically, Florida continued to dispense huge quantities of the highly addictive painkiller to dealers and addicts in other states.
West Virginia, where our law firm has offices, was one of the victims of Florida’s malfeasance. As Mr. York explains, “Twice a month, different ‘crews’ from Huntington crowded into vans and headed south to Palm Beach and Broward counties, home to more than 200 pill mills, the pain clinics where anyone with a fake ache and hard cash could walk out with pills and prescriptions. After hitting a string of clinics, the Huntington crews drove back with ‘around 500 to 600 pills per person,’” according to a participant.
But the Oxy Express didn’t just serve West Virginia. York describes “a nationwide caravan heading to South Florida. Cars bearing tags from Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Virginia and Ohio crowded into one clinic parking lot after another, loading up on pills and prescriptions.”
According to York, the DEA could not have been unaware, but chose to turn a blind eye on corrupt doctors who were facilitating an epidemic of deadly addiction. Florida officials were no better. In 2001, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth was growing concerned over trafficking of the drug and what he perceived as deceptive advertising by Purdue Pharma. York reports that Butterworth “told a state Board of Medicine committee that Purdue should consider temporarily taking the drug off the market.” Butterworth’s office conducted a year-long inquiry, during which time 589 Floridians died after taking oxycodone.
Lacking sufficient evidence of criminality, Butterworth struck a deal with Purdue; the company would pay $2 million to establish a prescription monitoring database, which Governor Jeb Bush had long favored. The system created in Florida would then be shared freely with every state.
Unfortunately, as York writes, “State lawmakers had to vote to create the prescription monitoring program by 2004, or Purdue would keep its money.” The bill became a victim of political infighting between Rep. Marco Rubio and Sen. Locke Burt. Purdue was off the hook, and Florida continued to be home of the Oxy Express.
The Sackler family continued to ignore the human consequences of their cash-cow drug, while reaping huge profits. However, the wheels of justice continue to grind, and Purdue Pharma is the target of numerous lawsuits citing negligence and malfeasance in the marketing of OxyContin and oxycodone. Victims of OxyContin addiction are being compensated. As investigators like Mr. York continue to develop the history of this epidemic, they uncover evidence that will allow more victims to recover the compensation they deserve.
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