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HOLDING THEM ACCOUNTABLE by Will Isern

Deeply entrenched in one of the biggest cases of his life, Mike Papantonio says opioid manufacturers knew their products were addictive and would lead to deaths but went ahead shipping millions of pills to communities that couldn’t possibly use the supply they were being provided. Papantonio alleges the nation’s opioid manufacturers mislead doctors to over-prescribe the powerful narcotics, flooding the market and fueling a crisis that has cost taxpayers $1 trillion in emergency response. Now, Papantonio is out to make the big pharma companies own up to what he says were willful lies in pursuit of profit. The Levin-Papantonio lawyer is representing cities, counties and states all over the country, including Escambia County, that are suing pharmaceutical companies for the costs associated with the opioid crisis. Papantonio could only discuss the litigation in broad strokes when he spoke at a meeting of the Panhandle Tiger Bay in June. Papantonio told the crowd that the case goes beyond monetary damages and that pharmaceutical executives must be treated like drug 56 Business Climate

dealers if the opioid crisis is to be stopped. Too often, he said, pharmaceutical companies and executives get off with fines which amount to a slap on the wrist. "Make a hundred billion dollars, and it costs you $20 billion dollars? Who is not going to take that deal?” Papantonio said. The defendants include some of the nation’s largest companies such as McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health and Purdue Pharma. Papantonio is pursuing reimbursement for costs associated with additional law enforcement officers and EMTs, overdose medication, inpatient treatment, criminal trials, inmate care and morgue space for overdose victims. According to the Centers for Disease Control Control and Prevention, the amount of opioids prescribed in America

in 2015 was enough for every person in the country to be constantly medicated for three weeks. In Escambia County there were 113 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, according to the CDC, but some communities had it much worse. The town of Williamson, West Virginia, home to fewer than 3,200 residents, was shipped nearly 21 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills between 2006 and 2016.

and knew the drugs were being overly prescribed, yet failed to warn doctors of the extremely addictive nature of the narcotics and the need to strictly limit the dose. Papantonio said while the lowlevel dealers who sell opioids like OxyContin on the street go to prison, the people who make the drugs and distribute them in huge quantities get away with a slap on the wrist.

“These people shouldn’t get According to Levin Papantonio, treated any differently just the complaints being because they wear Armani suits and Rolex watches,” pursued allege the wholesale distributors violated the federal Papantonio said. “We need to stop giving preferential Controlled Substances Act by treatment. The only way we failing to alert the U.S. Drug will change this culture is to Enforcement Administration prosecute these wrongdoers.” of suspicious opioids purchases, such as orders of unusual size, frequency or pattern. The claims against the manufacturers are based on allegations the companies exaggerated the benefits of the medication

Profile for Ballinger Publishing

Pensacola Magazine, August 2019  

Pensacola Magazine, August 2019