Pam Bondi has made cracking down on pill mills the cornerstone of two successful runs for Florida attorney general.
But it wasn't until Thursday, after the crackdowns worsened an opioid crisis that now kills at least 15 Floridians a day, that she outlined possible legal action against the drug companies that started it all.
Later this month, Bondi is sending her chief deputy, Trish Connors, to a federal courtroom in Ohio to try to negotiate a settlement between hundreds of other plaintiffs suing opioid manufacturers and distributors, she said Thursday.
"Am I optimistic we're going to resolve it that day? No," Bondi told reporters. "And if we're not, we're prepared to go to litigation."
Florida isn't suing the manufacturers — not yet — but the Ohio trip could be the first step towards joining a Big Tobacco-type settlement that could yield untold millions for the state.
A federal judge in Cleveland is trying to combine the more than 200 states, cities and counties that have already sued the drug makers with the 41 other states, including Florida, that are considering suing them.
The hope, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster told the Associated Press last week, is to create a "global" settlement this year. A Jan. 31 meeting between both sides is the first step.
"It's clear that any resolution has to be a global one and needs to include the states, and lawsuits that have been filed and lawsuits that are contemplated," Polster said.
But Bondi is not required to join the lawsuit and could sue the companies separately in federal or state court. In the big tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s, for example, Florida's $11.3 billion agreement was separate from the "global" settlement with 46 other states.
Bondi said her office was hiring outside lawyers to represent Florida.
"I feel it's in their (the drug companies') best interests to attempt to resolve it as early as possible and at least correct their conduct," she said. "And then we'll go back and get all the money that they owe these people."
Bondi, who led the crackdown on pill mills that inadvertently led to the heroin crisis, has been a proponent of expanding treatment and services for addicts.
Bondi would not answer questions Thursday about whether the companies have complied with the investigators' subpoenas.
Today's heroin crisis is more than two decades in the making. Drug companies like Purdue Pharma, the creator of OxyContin, misled the public about the drug's addictive properties. Distributors like Cardinal Health ignored suspicious drug orders around the country. Both companies have paid federal fines for their behavior.
By 2011, Florida finally acted, adopting a prescription drug monitoring program and cracking down on pill mills. But the state did little to help those already addicted, and with prescription pills harder to get, addicts turned to a far deadlier substitute: heroin.
Bondi on Thursday called the drug companies' actions over the last two decades "outrageous" and said, "I'm over them."
"It's about time they all step up to the plate and admit what they've been doing, and we won't back down on that," she said.