On the front lines of the opioid crisis, hospitals experience significant financial and operational harm
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Sept. 18, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- A group of 27 Florida hospitals have filed a civil lawsuit against the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioid-based drugs. Florida hospitals have experienced significant financial and operational harm as they've fought and treated the complications of addiction on the frontlines of the nation's opioid epidemic. The Florida hospitals are among hundreds across the U.S. that have filed similar lawsuits.
The complaint, filed in Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida, alleges negligence, fraud and civil conspiracy by the defendants, which include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories and more than 30 other companies and individuals involved in the manufacturing, distribution and sales of prescription opioids.
The filing alleges the unlawful actions are part of a decades-long practice in which the defendants made false assurances about the addiction risks associated with opioid products and used other deceptive marketing tactics to persuade physicians and other health care providers to broaden their prescribing patterns. The result has been widespread addiction, suffering, and loss of life in communities across the country, with hospitals bearing the financial burden of care and treatment for the victims.
In May 2017, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared the opioid crisis a state public health emergency. Months later, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined a public health emergency exists nationwide. But the seeds of the epidemic were sown more than a decade earlier; data compiled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency shows there were more than 5.5 billion prescription pain pills supplied to Florida from 2006 to 2012. In 2018, there were 5,922 drug-related deaths in Florida; of those, 2,733 were opioid-related. The crisis has touched everyone, none more tragically than the most vulnerable—newborns.
"Our neonatal intensive care unit provides the highest level of care for infants, and on any given day, 2-3 percent of the infants we are caring for have been diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome," said Dr. Maya Balakrishnan, a neonatologist on staff at Tampa General Hospital, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "These babies are born experiencing withdrawal signs, such as tremors, trouble feeding, breathing problems, and difficulty being consoled. They require much longer hospital stays than healthy babies born at term – on average, more than six times longer. We're deeply concerned about the neurodevelopmental outcomes of these babies, and so we're collaborating with several community partners to provide support as we try to improve their long-term health prognosis."
A recently released study from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 13 percent of Floridians lacked health insurance in 2018, compared with a national average of 8.5 percent. Both the state and national figures were up from the prior year.
The filing claims many facilities have also been forced to make capital investments in their facilities to accommodate increased security measures and create new treatment areas for overdose patients and those experiencing acute and chronic diseases that result from opioid abuse.
"No party is better positioned, given the appropriate financial resources, to lead us out of this public health crisis than our hospitals," said William R. Scherer, attorney with Conrad & Scherer, L.L.P., representing the Florida hospitals. "They have measurable damages and must be active participants in any opioid settlement discussions."
Last month the American Hospital Association urged a judge hearing one of the opioid cases "to ensure that needed funds are directed to the hospitals and health systems that are on the forefront of caring for the victims of this epidemic. With additional resources, hospitals can broaden access to post-overdose treatment in emergency departments, increase training of physicians to treat substance use disorders, cover the costs of lengthy stays and follow-up care for infants with neonatal abstinence disorder, and invest in electronic health information systems to improve coordinated care and prevent overprescribing."
The case is number #95754861 in Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County.