NEW PORT RICHEY — Once every three days in 2017, somebody in Pasco County overdosed on opioids.
The statistic, revealed Tuesday by Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, helped cement the Pasco County Commission's decision a few minutes later to join ongoing litigation against manufacturers and distributors of opioid medications.
"Those people should be accountable, they should be sued,'' Nocco told commissioners.
Last month, attorney Jeff Gaddy of the Pensacola-based law firm of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty and Proctor P.A. briefed commissioners on the litigation effort. His firm is part of a legal team that has filed 81 lawsuits on behalf of 120 clients in 10 states, alleging distributors flooded markets with opioid medications instead of following the federal requirement to monitor usage and report suspicious activity. On Tuesday, with no comment, commissioners agreed to retain his firm to represent the county in its own planned litigation.
A federal judge in Cleveland is trying to combine actions by more than 200 states, cities and counties that already sued drug makers, with the 41 states, including Florida, that are considering suits. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster told the Associated Press his goal is to create a "global" settlement this year. A Jan. 31 meeting between the sides is the first step.
In Pasco, Nocco said the total number of overdoses last year, 165, matched the number at the height of the pill-mill epidemic in 2010.
Nocco told commissioners about an incident in which he and Col. Jeff Harrington provided back-up on a patrol call and found one homeless man beating on the chest of another in an attempt to revive him.
"He stopped taking pills. Now he's on heroin,'' Nocco said the man told deputies.
The preponderance of heroin is an offshoot of state and local efforts to crack down on so-called pill mills – cash-only pharmacies filling scripts from unscrupulous doctors. The state Legislature created a drug-monitoring database to stem doctor shopping, and Pasco increased its own law enforcement by adding a dozen officers to the sheriff's narcotics unit.
A lack of treatment options, however, pushed addicts to abuse other drugs.
"It changed behavior,'' Nocco said, "but it hasn't change the addiction.''
Reach C.T. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7306. Follow @ctbowen2