Health Care

Florida hospitals file suit, demand compensation from opioid companies

Purdue Pharma, the maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, is among the defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by 27 Florida hospitals against the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioid-based drugs.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, is among the defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by 27 Florida hospitals against the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioid-based drugs. AP file

Twenty-seven Florida hospitals are the latest to join a flurry of litigation against big-name opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers, claiming millions of dollars in damages for uncompensated care related to the opioid epidemic.

The hospitals, which include South Florida institutions such as the Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, North Shore Medical Center in Miami, Coral Gables Hospital, Palmetto General Hospital and Hialeah Hospital in Hialeah, as well as the North Broward Hospital District, are alleging negligence, fraud and civil conspiracy by the opioid companies.

Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Abbot Laboratories and more than 30 other companies and individuals are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed in Broward County Circuit Court this week.

“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, whose firm is representing the Florida hospitals. “They have measurable damages and must be active participants in any opioid settlement discussions.”

Florida is among the states that have sued Purdue and other manufacturers and distributors for their role in the nation’s opioid crisis. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced last week that the state is in settlement talks with Purdue for a multibillion-dollar amount.

A spokesman for Moody’s office said on Wednesday that the state wanted to secure a settlement framework before Purdue filed for bankruptcy, which it did just days after reaching the tentative settlement.

The Broward lawsuit says the hospitals have treated — and continue to treat — patients for opioid-related conditions that have resulted in “substantial unreimbursed costs.” The conditions include overdose and addiction, babies who need neo-natal treatment because they are born addicted, and patients with diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV from intravenous drug use. Surgical procedures for those who use opioids can be complicated and costly, requiring special prescription drugs.

On Thursday, Coral Gables Hospital, Hialeah Hospital, North Shore Medical Center and Palmetto General Hospital issued a statement saying, in part, that they “continue to incur significant financial harm and consequences as a result [of the opioid crisis.] These dollars were spent to the detriment of other health-related programs and benefits for the people in the communities we serve.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to the hospitals that Scherer said could amount to “billions.” How much could realistically end up going to the hospitals affected, Scherer said, would depend on an examination of payments absorbed by emergency rooms and doctors in a 20-year period.

“We have to examine and account for in a particular hospital the overdose deaths that came into an emergency room in a hospital,” Scherer said.

An average hospital stay for a patient with an opioid-related condition cost about $28,000 in 2012, and only about 20% of those incidents were covered by private insurance, according to the lawsuit. The cost jumped to $107,000 if there was an associated infection, with about 14% of those incidents covered by insurance, the lawsuit said.

The lengthy list of defendants in the case includes members of the Sackler family that owns Purdue, a host of manufacturers and with national retail pharmacies such as Walmart, Walgreens and CVS that distribute opioids..

It also names marketers, including Purdue and others, who created “a massive marketing campaign premised on false and incomplete information” and “engineered a dramatic shift in how and when opioids are prescribed by the medical community.”

The marketing, the suit said, “overcame barriers to widespread prescribing of opioids for chronic pain with deceptive messages about the risks, benefits, and sustainability of long-term opioid use. These harms were compounded by supplying opioids beyond what the market could bear, funneling so many opioids into Florida communities that the only logical conclusion was that the product was being diverted and used illicitly.”

Scherer said other hospitals are expected to join the suit.

“These class actions including the one I just filed … still don’t reach the poor person that’s been horribly addicted.” Scherer said. “I talked to somebody today who has for 10 years been addicted to these things and takes four OxyContins a day... She’s lost everything. She’s on Medicaid. She’s 60 years old. Got hooked on it from a back surgery.”

He said the settlement by the state of Florida won’t address that issue.

“All the settlement is going to do is maybe bring some money in to pay the governments back from the money they spent … In our case, the hospitals are on the front line.”