By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Delray Beach is taking a multifaceted approach when it comes to solving the growing opioid epidemic.
Last month, commissioners voted to engage a law firm to sue Big Pharma and voted to change its rules for the distance requirement for group homes.
When it comes to fighting the companies that produce the drugs, the city would like to hire attorneys from Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, which has a local office in Boca Raton.
The city will work to negotiate terms with the firm, which said it would take the case on a contingency basis and front expenses. If an agreement is decided on, likely this month, Delray will be the first or one of the first cities in the state to enter into this type of suit.
“I think it’s time for us regardless of what other cities and counties do to move forward with this,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “We are firmly within our rights to seek restitution for past, present and future costs of an addicted population in large measure precipitated through fraud, deception and negligence.”
Mark Dearman, a partner in the firm, gave a presentation that explained how the city can use litigation as a way to respond to the opioid crisis. He said other cities in the country are gearing up to file similar suits.
Dearman said the city can go after the manufacturers and distributors of those drugs with claims like violation of state consumer protection law, public nuisance, negligence and RICO with damages for restitution for the increase in city expenses for law enforcement, emergency services, attorneys fees and other expenses the city has incurred.
“The litigation we are proposing is starting at the top,” he said.
The basis of the lawsuit would focus on the idea that drug manufacturers of legal painkillers made misrepresentations and omissions about the dangers of their product.
Delray responded to neatly 700 overdoses last year. City officials estimate that each overdose call the city responds to costs about $2,000.
“No pathogen, virus or war on this country’s soil has caused the death and destruction as the scourge of opioid addiction,” Glickstein said.
The firm the city is looking to hire has taken on large cases before like Enron and Volkswagen. It is noted for taking home record recoveries for its clients.
The city also took final action on a new rule that aims to crack down on the influx of sober homes. The rule is aimed at protecting people who live in group homes by distancing where those homes can be located and requiring they are licensed or certified.
The new rule is one of the first of its kind to be passed in the state. Boynton Beach is also changing its rules to address the sober home increases in its city.
Geared toward preventing the clustering of additional sober homes or recovery residences from opening in the city and forcing illicit ones to close, the new rule requires new group homes, including sober homes, be located one block away from an existing one and to seek the voluntary state certification offered by the state to operate. If a sober home would like to open near one that already exists, it can apply for a special accommodation from the city for consideration.
The new ordinance was unanimously approved by commissioners.
“I am grateful as a resident and as a commissioner,” Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said of the new rule.
The rule was crafted by special counsel Daniel Lauber, former city attorney Terrill Pyburn and interim city attorney Max Lohman.
Lauber said the intent behind the rule is to protect people in recovery by preventing areas from becoming concentrated with sober homes and prevent areas that are already filled with sober homes from becoming more intense.
If you want to open a sober home with more than three unrelated people living together you would have to complete a two-page form and show you have state certification or licensure under the new law.
The rule caps the number of people who can live in a sober home at 10. If you wanted to house more people, you would have to go before a special magistrate and explain why you need the extra accommodation.
He said the residences must keep up their certification every year and if they don’t they will have to vacate in 60 days and find a place for their tenants.
“They can’t dump them out on the street,” he said.
Lauber said data from more than 50 studies shows that as long as group homes aren’t clustered together on a block and licensed they don’t have an impact on property values, neighborhood turnover or safety.
“This legislation is going to save lives,” Mayor Glickstein said.