Call it an offer they could not refuse.
After being assured there would be no cost, Deltona leaders voted June 3 to become a co-plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the makers and distributors of opioids.
Deltona could reap millions of dollars if the case is successful, the Deltona City Commission was told.
An attorney working on the case said the hope is to hold the makers of opioids responsible.
“You have caused this crisis, and you have to help fix it,” Michael Kahn, an attorney for the plaintiffs, explained.
Deltona is one of many localities in several states suing to stem the widespread use of opioids to combat chronic pain and as recreational drugs. The use of prescription opioids may lead to addiction and overdoses, a report on the lawsuit noted.
The report alleges that the pharmaceutical industry misrepresented the well-established risks of addiction associated with these medications, as well as their efficacy in treating chronic, non-cancer pain.
“These misrepresentations, which were directed primarily at physicians, induced physicians to write medically unnecessary prescriptions for these medications, and laid the foundation for today’s widespread addiction and abuse,” the document reads.
Opioids, including such substances as oxycodone and fentanyl, are costly for local and state governments in terms of law enforcement and corrections, as well as for health care, family services and social services, and lost productivity. The human cost was summed up in a memorandum given to city commissioners.
“According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], more than 46 people died every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2016,” the paper noted.
In addition, a case summary provided by Kahn and his colleagues pointed to “a substantial ‘black market’ for prescription opioids” and “a resurgence in the use of other illicit drugs, including heroin.”
Kahn and a consortium of lawyers and the local governments they represent are suing several pharmaceutical firms in the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio in Cleveland.
The case is set to go to trial Oct. 22, but Kahn said he expects an out-of-court settlement may be reached before that date.
In addition to Deltona, the cities of Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Shores and Sanford, and the West Volusia Hospital Authority, have signed on as co-plaintiffs.
Local governments elsewhere in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina are also parties in the civil action, whose damages may total as much as $50 billion.
Defendants in the suit include opioid makers such as Actavis. Allergan, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and Teva, along with pharmaceutical distributors such as AmerisourceBergen, McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health.
Kahn said if his side loses, Deltona and the other clients do not owe him and the other attorneys any money. Conversely, if the plaintiffs win, the attorneys will receive 20 percent of the judgment awarded.
“If any settlement does come, the cost will be taken off the top,” Kahn said.
In the event the plaintiffs win, Kahn said Deltona will share in the award. The city may earmark its damage award toward the costs of law enforcement and/or other first-responders, such as the Fire Department’s emergency medical services.
“There’s extra danger to our firefighters and our paramedics,” City Commissioner Chris Nabicht said, referring to emergency calls involving someone using opioids.
“The money — where is it going to go? It’s going back into the community,” City Commissioner Anita Bradford said.
Mayor Heidi Herzberg said the lawsuit and Deltona’s participation send “a clear-cut message” that the misuse of prescription opioids “will not be tolerated.”