Florida lawmakers appear ready to give Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody a key legal tool in the state’s lawsuit against the opioid industry.
The Republican Attorney General wants access to a database of opioid prescriptions collected by the Florida Department of Health to bolster her lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors. The state has accused the companies of recklessly fueling a deadly drug epidemic responsible for 6,178 opioid-related deaths in Florida in 2017 alone.
The data is part of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program that was set up following the state’s “pill mill” crisis, which targeted doctors who prescribed too many prescription opioids to drug-seeking patients, often for cash.
In the pending legislation, officials said measures will be put in place to maintain patient privacy.
The state’s lawyers could seek the opioid data from the drug companies and the pharmacies, like Walgreens and CVS, which distribute the drugs. But the litigation could take years and would face legal roadblocks.
The Florida House voted 111-0 earlier this week to give Moody direct access to the state drug data.
Similar legislation had stalled in the Senate and appeared to be in jeopardy. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican raised questions about its impact on patient privacy andrefused to give the bill a hearing in her committee.
But on Thursday, with Benacquisto’s support, the Senate bill was withdrawn from her committee and sent to the Senate floor. The Senate is now poised to approve the bill (HB 1253) on the final regularly scheduled day of the 2019 session on Friday and send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“A vote for this bill is a vote for the Florida families and communities devastated by the opioid crisis. There is not a corner of our state that has not been ravaged by the death and destruction caused by opioid abuse,” Moody said in a statement after the House approved the bill.
Moody said that, with support from the lawmakers, Florida “will hold responsible the entities that helped fuel the opioid crisis that is killing 17 people a day in our state.”
A successful lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers and distributors could mean a multi-million-dollar settlement for the state. Just one recent indication of what’s at stake: Purdue Pharma reached a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma in March.