Possible Delays for Landmark Opioid Trial, U.S. Judge Denies Drug Companies’ Dismissals

A growing list of drug makers, pharmacies, and distributors are facing lawsuits by states, counties, individuals, and municipalities for their roles in the opioid crisis. Defendants include Endo International, Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, CVS Health, Rite Aid, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Walmart, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.

The lawsuits allege that the companies’ deceptive marketing tactics misled prescribers and consumers about risks of painkillers’ prolonged use, causing a massive increase in supply that distributors and pharmacies didn’t do enough to stop. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has rejected the defendants’ efforts to deny responsibility. “A factfinder could reasonably infer that these failures were a substantial factor in producing the alleged harm suffered by plaintiffs,” he wrote.

Claims filed against Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers and distributors by Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties are set to be the first to be tried this October, but Ohio attorney general Dave Yost is asking the court to hold off until the state’s own 2017 and 2018 opioid lawsuits go to trial.

Mr. Yost says the state’s lawsuits are “poised to bring comprehensive statewide relief, accountability, and remediation to the citizens of Ohio for their past, present, and future injuries,” while the counties “advance claims that belong to the State in an effort to commandeer moneys that rightfully should be distributed across the state by Ohio.”

Amid all these lawsuits, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to offer states more than $1.8 billion in new funding to expand treatment access to reverse opioid overdoses and gather case data. The funding includes $900 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help states track overdose data; in addition, the HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will provide around $932 million toward opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month if they do not reach a settlement agreement, or if the October trial in Ohio is delayed. Several state attorneys general have said Purdue’s proposed settlement of up to $12 billion for U.S. communities suing the company is too low. Their bankruptcy could result in much lower recoveries, closer to $1 billion.

“[Purdue] has made clear that it prefers a constructive global resolution, [rather than] years of wasteful litigation and appeals,” according to a statement from the company. It is “actively working with state attorneys general and other plaintiffs on solutions that have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives and deliver billions of dollars to the communities affected by the opioid crisis.”

Sources: Reuters, September 3, 2019; Reuters, September 4, 2019; Reuters, September 3, 2019; FiercePharma, September 3, 2019.