Following national opioid lawsuit agreements, Florida “can’t take our foot off the gas,” says FBHA president

Florida will receive over $1.3 billion from what Attorney General Ashley Moody called a “historic” opioid lawsuit agreement last Wednesday from the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors.

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

The distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — will pay up to $21 billion over 17 and a half years in nationwide agreements to Florida and 13 other states that joined the lawsuit. Johnson & Johnson, who manufactured and marketed opioids, will pay up to $5 billion total over nine years as part of the agreement, providing Florida with another $300 million. Other states and territories will have 30 days from the agreement issued Wednesday to join the deal, and local governments within the participating states may join within 150 days.

The funding comes at a critical time in Florida’s ongoing opioid use epidemic, says Melanie Brown-Woofter, president and CEO of the Florida Behavioral Health Association (FBHA).

“We can’t slow down, we can’t take our foot off the gas, if you will, in terms of treatment and prevention services.”

According to Brown-Woofter, while the number of opioid prescriptions has decreased over the last few years, FBHA has seen an increased use of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. A record 93,000 opioid deaths occurred last year across the country, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found, marking a 30% increase from the previous year. Florida saw an increase in opioid deaths well above that — 37% — making it the second highest increase in the nation after California. Florida saw over 7,500 overdose deaths last year, according to the CDC.

Brown-Woofter is also concerned about the long-term effects of the pandemic on behavioral health and substance abuse. She said that suicide rates in Florida rose from 2019 to 2020 and expects they will continue increasing.

The funds from the lawsuit will address three main areas, Brown-Woofter said. The first are opioid abatement treatments. This includes Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and increasing the distribution of naloxone, the narcotic that reverses opioid overdoses, to first responders and general community members. The latter is key to providing immediate treatment to overdose victims, according to Brown-Woofter. 

“People can’t come into [opioid] recovery [programs] if they have overdosed and not been able to be revived.”

Brown-Woofter said the FBHA is also looking to ramp up services for pregnant and postpartum women, as well as better understand the role opioids play in the criminal justice system and their effect on incarcerated individuals. 

The second area focuses on education and outreach. This includes not only strategies aimed at reducing the number of adolescents and young adults using opioids, but increasing the number of peer-recovery specialists

“We also want to look at folks who do have opioid use or substance use disorder, and be able to help provide treatment to them to keep them in recovery, and reunite them with their families, if that’s possible. And you know, [we want to] have them become part of the fabric of the community so that their expertise and where they are [with substance use], can help others to either come into recovery, stay into recovery, or not have to enter recovery at all.”

The third goal Brown-Woofter outlined was to ensure research-based solutions. The FBHA hosts annual Opioid Summits to discuss and identify best practices when addressing the opioid epidemic.

Governor Ron DeSantis commended the lawsuit and efforts to address the state’s opioid crisis. He said in a statement: 

“This settlement helps hold these companies accountable for their role in contributing to the opioid epidemic and will provide Floridians struggling with opioid addiction the services they need to recover.”

In addition to the $26 billion agreement, the companies must abide by several restrictions: 

 

Image: Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody

 

The distributors put out a joint statement, the New York Times reports

“While the companies strongly dispute the allegations made in these lawsuits, they believe the proposed settlement agreement and settlement process it establishes are important steps toward achieving broad resolution of governmental opioid claims and delivering meaningful relief to communities across the United States.”