Since losing her son to an opioid overdose nearly three years ago, Cindy Dodds has been a fervent advocate for educating public officials on addiction and destigmatizing the crisis in Florida.
Dodds, of Key Biscayne, has pushed for more needle exchanges to prevent the spread of disease, organized families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction and called for harsher laws to punish dealers.
But even though she’s been a leading voice on several facets of the opioid issue, Dodds said she and other Floridians personally affected by the epidemic have been shut out of the process as the state’s attorney general has negotiated to reach a multibillion-dollar
settlement agreement “in principle” with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.
“We’re very close to a settlement and it’s not something any of the families want to happen,” Dodds said. “They’re not listening to us.”
Purdue Pharma’s profits, she said, were “made off the blood of our family members.”
“We want them to face their day in court as criminals — drug lords in suits,” she said.
Purdue Pharma is facing thousands of lawsuits from states and municipalities over its role in marketing and aggressively pushing the sale of its opioids. Florida’s tentative agreement was announced Sept. 11 by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Dodds told the Miami Herald that she feels betrayed by state leaders who are heading toward a settlement without talking to her and others like her. She said she has contacted both Moody’s office and that of Gov. Ron DeSantis but hasn’t been able to connect directly with anyone with decision-making power to convey the opposition of families most affected by the crisis.
A settlement could tie up Purdue Pharma’s assets in bankruptcy courts, Dodds said, and she feared it would shield those responsible from further liability.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said it was vital for the state to secure a settlement framework before Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy, which it did just days after reaching the tentative settlement.
“This action enhances Florida’s ability to gain quicker access to more life-saving resources to fight the deadly opioid epidemic — instead of risking the outcome of prolonged, free-fall bankruptcy proceedings that could last years and render diminutive returns,” communications director Whitney Ray said in a statement.
Ray also addressed concerns voiced by affected families, saying that relatives of someone harmed by Purdue may still pursue wrongful death lawsuits, and “law enforcement with jurisdiction over such matters may still pursue criminal investigation if warranted.”
He also said that the tentative settlement is part of a civil action on behalf of the state of Florida and only applies to Purdue. The state, he added, will “continue its fight” against the remaining defendants, including other opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmaceutical companies.
The settlement proposal would require that the Sackler family, which owns the company, pay at least $3 billion and reconfigure the business to siphon future profits off to the company’s creditors. The settlement could potentially be worth $12 billion, according to reports, but skeptics doubt it would actually reach that figure.
The company would not admit to any wrongdoing under the framework of the proposed settlement. For Dodds, anything short of an admission of guilt is unacceptable.
“The evidence against them is overwhelming,” she said.
The New York Attorney General’s office last week accused the Sackler family of quietly transferring $1 billion to themselves, bolstering claims by other states that the family was attempting to shield their wealth as legal threats mounted against the company.
Lawsuits against Purdue Pharma accuse the company of aggressively marketing OxyContin as having a low addiction rate despite knowing that the rate of addiction was actually quite high.
Cindy Dodds’ son, Kyle Dodds, was 15 when he was first prescribed an opioid for pain. He died in 2016 at the age of 24.
“The doctor said don’t worry about the addiction rate. It’s so low, it’s not a problem,” Cindy Dodds said. “The doctor had been lied to.”
Dodds said she recalls the doctor telling her the addiction rate was about 1%, but recent court documents show that it was actually closer to 80%.
Sarah Couper, a nurse in Miami, also lost her son to opioids in 2016, one week after his 19th birthday.
When she first heard news of a settlement, she said she was optimistic. Then she started reading about the terms and quickly soured on a potential deal.
“They knew what they were doing,” Couper said. “They knew they were lying to the doctors, to the public, and it was all to make money.”
Reflecting on the last three years, Dodds said she knew early on she would be in a fight to combat stigma about opioid addiction.
She said her son lived with the shame of addiction because he said he was without an excuse — no one had abused him, he had no apparent mental illness or other trauma.
“What I wish I could have told him,” Dodds said, “is that it was Purdue’s lies in marketing and targeting that opened up addiction, not a flawed character.”