A Test for Opioid Lawsuits, Ohio Case Is Pushed Forward by Magistrate
Opioid manufacturers have been the target of thousands of lawsuits from state and local governments seeking to reclaim funds that have been spent on addressing treatment for opioid abuse and overdoses.
On Friday, a ruling by a U.S. magistrate will likely impact many of the lawsuits that have been filed against companies like Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and more, as well as drug distributors, such as McKesson. The ruling allowed a lawsuit brought by Summit County, Ohio and the city of Akron, Ohio, to move forward. That decision, Bloomberg reported, will likely influence numerous other lawsuits brought by local governments.
In April, BioSpace highlighted a number of the lawsuits that have been filed against the opioid-related companies. A large number of the lawsuits argue that the opioid manufacturers and distributors used misleading marketing practices that contributed to high levels of addition. Additionally, the lawsuits argue that the companies downplayed concerns over abuse and were complicit in the large number of opioid deliveries to certain pharmacies in areas hard hit by the epidemic. One of the lawsuits highlighted in the BioSpace report pointed to 531 opioid-related overdoses that took place between 2014 and 2015 in Salt Lake County, Utah. In its lawsuit, the government claimed that the number of opioid overdoses occurred at a rate of one about every 33 hours during that time frame. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 116 Americans die daily from opioid overdoses.
The Salt Lake County lawsuit was bolstered by the U.S. Department of Justice, which petitioned the courts earlier this year, to participate in settlement discussions as a “friend of the court.” A friend of the court provides information and expertise in order to assist a judge in rendering a verdict. The friend of the court filing came about a month after the DOJ formed a task force to target opioid manufacturers and distributors for the roles they have allegedly played in the increase of addiction across the country. The DOJ said it intended to use criminal and civil penalties to hold people accountable if they are convicted of adding to the crisis. Since that move, the DOJ has continued to examine how it can address the opioid crisis. Even President Donald Trump has encouraged the DOJ to take legal action against the opioid companies.
In regards to the Ohio cases, Bloomberg reported that parties on both sides “have been quietly engaged in settlement talks.” However, the report says that drugmakers and distributors have been pushing back on the demands of the plaintiffs in hopes of either narrowing or defeating the lawsuits in order to mitigate any settlement costs.
In his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Ruiz recommended that claims including racketeering, fraud, conspiracy and negligence be allowed to move forward, Bloomberg said. Ruiz did recommend that some of the claims regarding the marketing of opioids and that the distribution of the medications caused a public nuisance, Bloomberg added.
The Ohio case is scheduled to proceed next year, according to the report. The pharma companies have said they will defend the allegations. Companies, such as J&J, have noted that there are clear warning labels on medicines about risks and benefits of the medications.