Multiple opioid lawsuits underway

By FRITZ MAYER
Posted 12/18/19

ALBANY, NY — The effort to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors liable for some of the damage the opioid crisis has caused in New York State started with municipalities. In 2017, Sullivan …

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Multiple opioid lawsuits underway

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ALBANY, NY — The effort to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors liable for some of the damage the opioid crisis has caused in New York State started with municipalities. In 2017, Sullivan County joined other counties by hiring a law firm to bring a suit against “various manufacturers of prescription opiates.”

In September of 2018, New York’s acting attorney general filed a lawsuit against the most visible opioid manufacturer—Purdue Pharma, the maker of the best-selling painkiller OxyContin.

In March 28 of this year, NYS Attorney General Letitia James announced an amended lawsuit against six opioid manufacturers, as well as the Sackler family, which founded and owns Purdue Pharma.

“Despite having full knowledge of opioids’ risk of addiction, abuse and diversion, the Sacklers, as the owners of Purdue involved with each and every material decision relating to the development and sale of Purdue’s opioids, were actively involved in marketing Purdue’s opioids in a way that deceptively minimized those risks and overstated the benefits,” said James in March.

In November, James announced that a trial against multiple opioid manufacturers and distributors was set to begin on January 20, 2020.

“For more than two decades, the opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc on New Yorkers and Americans across the nation. After all these years of death and destruction, come January, the actions of the manufacturers and distributors of these deadly drugs will be presented in open court and laid bare for the American people. We are committed to holding those responsible for a role in the opioid crisis accountable and will not stop fighting for justice for victims,” James said.

The accelerated trial will cover the New York attorney general’s action against all manufacturers and distributors beyond Purdue Pharma, and the Sackler family. The case against Purdue and the Sacklers is moving separately through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

In September, James said that about $1 billion in funding was discovered, including some in Swiss bank accounts, that suggested the Sackler family was trying to shield its wealth as it faced lawsuits from more than 20 states and thousands of municipalities.

Later that month, the Sacklers reached a tentative agreement with 24 states and numerous local governments that included payment of $3 billion and a percentage of future profits from the sale of Oxycontin. The family reportedly amassed a $13 billion fortune from the sale of the addictive painkiller and other products. James and 23 other state attorneys general have rejected the settlement.

The day after that settlement was announced, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the state would pursue a separate lawsuit against the Sacklers. “Through our negotiations with Purdue Pharma, it became crystal clear the Sacklers have no intention of taking any ownership for engineering an epidemic that claims the lives of 12 Pennsylvanians each day,” Shapiro said at the time.

In a separate case, PA negotiated with three other states and, in October, reached a deal for a settlement of $8 billion for the keystone state from five different companies. The companies are Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, Johnson & Johnson and Teva.

In Ohio, a federal lawsuit against manufacturers, distributors and retail outlets is moving forward that combines 2,600 lawsuits that have been filed from municipalities around the country. Any settlement, however, would have would have a much wider reach than just those lawsuits. The presiding judge, Dan Polster, has created a “negotiation class” in the lawsuit, and a total of 34,000 local municipal governments agreed by the November 20 deadline to accept the terms of any settlement, while 541 local governments have opted out of any such agreement. Many of those localities who have opted out are either planning to bring a lawsuit or have already brought one.

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