JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The City of Jacksonville is looking into potential litigation with major pharmaceutical companies who it says "started" the opioid epidemic locally. The City invited a law firm to City Hall on Thursday for an Opioid Special Committee.
Council members John Crescimbeni, Tommy Hazouri, Bill Gulliford and Jim Love asked questions to the Robbins, Geller, Rudman & Dowd law firm about why they would be the best fit if they were to pursue the lawsuits.
The firm gave a presentation of their past success stories.It was the sole counsel in the Enron case, which ended up in the largest class action securities settlement to this day with a total recovery amount of $7.2 billion.
The 2.5-hour meeting was emotional as council members shared their concerns and passions for bringing the lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies.
"Dadgummit I think they are responsible for the whole dog-gone thing and I think they need to pay, that’s just my personal opinion," Gulliford said. "Who started it? That’s the real issue. Who started it?"
"How do you pick the companies we go after and why?" Hazouri asked.
"We would pick the companies most culpable based on our investigation and you would have the final say," said attorney Aelish Baig.
The firm said it would incur all costs and then provide a lump sum, if it wins, to the city to be distributed as necessary.
Hazouri says if they win money, he wants to put it toward stopping human trafficking, as well as reimbursing families who have lost loved ones to opioid abuse.
The law suit, according to the firm, would involve statutory and court claims for the "false marketing and failure to report accurate data by the companies they choose to go after."
"Many of them approve drugs only intended for cancer to non-cancer patients," Baig said.
The firm is already in an agreement with the City of Delray Beach to pursue a similar lawsuit, although one has not been filed yet.
Councilman Love says the projected death toll from opioid overdose in Jacksonville is expected to reach at least 700 just for this year.
"There were 400 last year, and 200 the year before, so it’s doubling, it seems that way," Love said.
Councilman Gulliford says he has close friends who have lost loved ones to Opioid overdoses.
He says due to the magnitude of the case, it could take up to ten years, but he is ready to pick the firm and get started within the month.
Right now, the general counsel for the city is meeting with the law firm to discuss specifics before moving forward.
All four council members believe the lawsuit, which would be the first of its kind in Florida, would send a strong message that opioid abuse does not cross the First Coast's border.
They are also hoping to send a message with a pilot program they will be launching on either Sept. 1 or Oct. 1 that will allow any patient admitted to St. Vincent's for an opioid overdose to sign up to have a mentor who has recovered from opioid addiction.