Lawyers from four South Florida firms for the city of Fort Lauderdale filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against dozens of pharmaceutical companies, alleging their corporate greed contributed to skyrocketing opioid-related deaths in the city.
Attorneys from Miami, Boca Raton, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale are handling the case from Haliczer, Pettis & Schwamm; Morgan & Morgan; Robbins, Geller, Rudman & Dowd; and Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Gilbert.
Broward County averaged more than 10 opioid overdose deaths a week in 2016, according to the complaint, which puts Fort Lauderdale on the forefront of “the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history,” thanks to the abuse and overprescription of opioids.
In response, the city has poured funds into public services such as police, overdose reversal medication and addiction treatment programs, emergency response systems and foster care— money it wants back.
“Fort Lauderdale has unexpectedly had to spend vast funds on a wide range of services to fight the opioid epidemic’s staggering, unanticipated, and far-reaching effects,” the complaint said.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Florida, points the finger at a string of companies, including Walgreen Co., Purdue Pharma L.P. and Johnson & Johnson, and details two alleged schemes ran by drug marketers and distributors that made “blockbuster profits.” One was designed to misrepresent risks and increase demand for opioids and the other failed to catch suspicious orders, according to the complaint.
Fort Lauderdale also accused the defendants of conspiring to inflate prices and exploit vulnerable populations.
Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, said its actions were appropriate and responsible, and claimed its opioid medications account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. market.
“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,” said spokesperson Andrew Wheatley. “Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis.”
Walgreen declined to comment on the case, and Purdue Pharma did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Read the full complaint:
Meet the lawyers
Fort Lauderdale has seven Florida lawyers on the case.
Debra P. Klauber oversees trials and appeals at Haliczer Pettis in Fort Lauderdale, while the firm’s co-founder Eugene K. Pettis handles a range of complex corporate, public sector and individual civil cases.
James D. Young of Morgan & Morgan in Jacksonville specializes in complex litigation and has served as special counsel to three Florida attorneys general.
Mark J. Dearman of Robbins Geller’s Boca Raton office specializes in mass torts, fraud, whistleblower and corporate takeover litigation. Managing partner Paul J. Geller has served in a variety of government cases over the opioid crisis, and has argued for corporations and consumers in class action lawsuits across the country.
Scott Weiselberg handles commercial and real estate litigation at Kopelowitz Ostrow in Fort Lauderdale, while Robert C. Gilbert of the firm’s Miami office specializes in complex business cases and class actions nationwide.
The lawyers declined to discuss the case, deferring to a Fort Lauderdale representative Chaz Adams, who said the complaint speaks for itself.
The defendants have not yet assigned counsel to the case, and it’s unclear whether they’ve been served yet.
U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas in the Southern District of Florida will oversee the case. Fort Lauderdale seeks punitive damages, plus interest, attorney fees and costs.