April 3, 2018

Florida mental health providers join crush of opioid lawsuits [Tallahassee Democrat]

Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat writes:

“Big Bend Community Based Care and six other state mental health agencies are joining a national legal action against some of the biggest drug manufacturers and distributors in the world to try to recover billions of tax dollars spent on the state’s opioid crisis.

A lawsuit expected to be filed Wednesday by the mental health providers in federal court in Tallahassee is part of a nationwide strategy to go after Big Pharma similar to the way litigants went after the tobacco industry.

The suit was filed by Ryan B. Hobbs of Brooks, LeBoeuf, Bennett, Foster and Gwartney partnered with Price Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama.

States, cities and counties across the country have filed similar lawsuits under fraud and federal racketeering laws. The Florida lawsuit, filed by a consortium of Behavioral Health Managing Entities in 65 of the state 67 counties, will be merged with dozens of similar lawsuits against the manufacturers of Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and others. All the lawsuits will be presided over by the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is presiding over more than 200 opioid-related cases.

The abuse of morphine-based painkillers has reached epidemic proportions nationally, killing 64,000 in the U.S. in 2016 and costing $500 billion a year to combat.

‘We refuse to stand by while the makers and distributors of these harmful and highly addictive drugs cost Florida taxpayers billions of dollars each year — not to mention the horrible loss of life and the harm they cause to Florida families,’ said Mike Watkins, CEO of Big Bend Community Based Care and President of the Florida Association of Managing Entities.

The state is divided into seven districts, each of which is assigned a Behavioral Health Managing Entity – a nonprofit organization required by state law to deliver substance abuse and mental health services to uninsured Floridians.

The consortium’s providers are charged by statute to care of the families harmed by the opioid crisis and seek any and all remedies including the pursuit of financial payments from third parties.

‘The filing represents best effort to vigorously pursue justice on behalf of those we serve and recover the cost of providing badly needed mental health services on behalf of the taxpayers of this state,’ Watkins said.

The lawsuits are being filed because state and federal governments are not coming up with the money to fight the epidemic.

For years, Florida has been at the bottom of mental health funding compared to other states. Florida provided $36.05 per person in mental health support services in 2014, less than one-third of the U.S. average of $125.90, according to the Florida Policy Institute [emphasis added].”

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