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Hillsborough, tops in state for drug-addicted babies, will file suit against opioid makers

TAMPA — Hillsborough County plans to file a lawsuit next week against companies that manufacture opioid drugs, alleging that aggressive marketing of painkillers worsened the opioid crisis.

The county joins a number of other local governments nationwide that have brought similar suits against opioid makers.

County officials plan to discuss the lawsuit Tuesday in a news conference. Scheduled to attend are Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, State Attorney Andrew Warren and other public safety and health officials.

The lawsuit says drug manufacturers helped cause the opioid addiction crisis by aggressively marketing opioid drugs, overplaying their benefits in treating chronic pain and downplaying their dangers, according to a Hillsborough County news release.

The release also points to a disturbing statistic from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration: In 2016, Hillsborough reported 579 babies born addicted to drugs — the most among Florida’s 67 counties.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pam Bondi files lawsuit against five large manufacturers of opioids

The defendants in the lawsuit were not immediately disclosed. It was also unclear in which court the lawsuit would be filed.

Mississippi attorney Mike Moore is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of the county. Moore is handling a number of similar suits on behalf of local and state governments nationwide.

"We are working closely with Florida’s case and the other states," Moore said Friday in an email. "Hillsborough County was one of the first places we had interest and were hired over a year ago, I believe. The county has a huge increase in opioid overdose deaths."

Moore, a former attorney general in Mississippi, is known for heading up major lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Nationwide, local governments filed some 200 civil cases in the federal courts as of late last year, and dozens of other suits were working their way through state courts. Attorneys general from nearly every state have joined together to look into legal options.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced in May that she had filed "the most comprehensive lawsuit in the country" against the largest manufacturers and distributors of opioids, blaming them for creating an opioid crisis that has killed more than 10,000 Floridians. The suit was filed in Pasco County.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com

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