“LAWSUIT FLOOD VERSUS ENTIRE OPIOID INDUSTRY IS GETTING BIG PHARMA’S ATTENTION”
By Mark A. York (June 11, 2018)
Opioid litigation in New York and other state courts, where hundreds of counties and cities have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, are now moving forward even with the explosion in the Federal Opiate Litigation MDL 2804 OPIOID-CRISIS-BRIEFCASE -MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION, where more than 500 states, counties, cities as well as unions, hospitals and individuals have filed lawsuits against the opioid industry as a whole.
At one point, the opiate industry attempted to raise arguments stating that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet determined whether narcotic painkillers are unnecessarily dangerous – a central question in any litigation, which was quickly denied and seems to show that Opiate Big Pharma is once again attempting to hide behind the FDA shield.
In a two-page order issued in March by Judge Jerry Garguilo of the Suffolk County Supreme Court, New York where he ruled that there is “no compelling reason to impose a stay of proceedings” until the FDA completes its own review of the benefits and risks of opioids. The lawsuits by most of the counties in New York, which have been consolidated in Garguilo’s court, are “backward-looking” toward allegedly fraudulent marketing materials and tactics the drug companies used to convince doctors and patients their products had low risk of addiction.
In another state court, the first of many opioid litigation trials to be scheduled is now set in Oklahoma, where Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman set May 28, 2019 for the start of the trial. ate has been set for a lawsuit by a state against pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic, according to Oklahoma‘s attorney general. See Original Complaint – State of Oklahoma vs. Purdue Pharma et al, June 30, 2017 (Cleveland County, OK District Court)
Oklahoma, one of at least 20 states besides New York that have opioid lawsuit dockets against drugmakers, alleges fraudulent marketing of drugs that fueled the opioid epidemic in the lawsuit filed in June 2017, and seeks unspecified damages from Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals and several of their subsidiaries.
The New York state court lawsuits are joined by another somewhat unique group of plaintiffs in the legal battle over the opioid-epidemic with class actions filed by consumers who claim they’re seeing skyrocketing health insurance costs as a result of the crisis.
The suits, filed in New York and four other states, were brought by individual persons against opioid manufacturers and distributors, and are among the few class actions filed against drug makers and marketers. The vast majority of cases have been separate actions brought by government entities like cities and counties.
The plaintiffs in this new wave of cases have filed across the country in federal courts in USDC SD New York (Complaint) , a New Jersey Complaint, a Massachusetts Complaint, an Illinois Complaint as well as a California Complaint where they’ve filed lawsuits on behalf of those who paid increased health insurance costs–including higher premiums, deductibles and co-payments–because of effects attributable to the opioid epidemic.
The proposed classes include businesses and individuals who paid for health insurance as part of employer-sponsored plans.
“We don’t know anyone who in the litigation is addressing the private sector harms to consumers and businesses from increased premiums and other insurance costs that flow to anyone in the health insurance market as a result of the fact that insurers are paying more for addictions,” said Travis Lenkner, one of the plaintiffs attorneys filing the cases.
The opioid cases add a new type of plaintiff into the wide-reaching opioid litigation, which have also includes states, Native American tribes, pension funds and hospitals.
John Parker, senior vice president of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, speaking on behalf of distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp., all named as defendants, called the opioid epidemic a “complex public health challenge.”
“Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated,” he said in a statement. “Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”
Purdue Pharma spokesman Bob Josephson noted that his company’s products account for less than 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions. Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals defended the labels on its prescription opioids and called the allegations “baseless and unsubstantiated.”
Representatives of the other manufacturing defendants, which include Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Insys Therapeutics Inc., did not respond to requests for comment.
It is now fairly common knowledge in the legal world that there is more than enough data that links increased health insurance costs to the opioid epidemic as well as the overall catastrophic impact of the flood of opioids into the America marketplace.
The suits cite statistics. In California, for instance, health insurance premiums for family coverage increased 233.5 percent from 2002 to 2016. Monthly premiums for the plaintiff in that case, Jordan Chu, jumped from $160.52 in 2016 to $240.76 this year. New Jersey residents with private health insurance spent $5,081 in insurance premiums in 2014, up from $2,454 in 2001. And an average family plan in New York with annual costs of $9,439 in 2003 had jumped to $19,375 in 2016.
Plaintiff counsel stated that they will be filing suits in more states and fight any attempts to transfer these cases to the Northern District of Ohio, where U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is overseeing the opioid multidistrict litigation, MDL 2804, even though the cases were filed in federal courts. A damaging discovery win for the plaintiffs was the order of May 18, 2018, see DEA ARCOS Database Access Order May 8, 2018 MDL 2804, where Judge Polster ordered the DEA to turn over distribution data for all 50 states based on the revelations in a prior DEA related order where the Opioid Drug distribution data provided very solid information on all the parties involved in creating the opioid crisis over the last 15 years.
The New York court docket parallels the federal and many other opioid based complaints, filed in state courts across the country where parties have decided to pursue their claims in their state courts versus the federal docket. These filings in both state and federal courts, will only increases the pressure on manufacturers and wholesalers to either win dismissal of these cases or prepare for an accelerated trial schedule.
There are currently more than 500 of the nation’s 3,200 counties have sued and plaintiff lawyers hope to soon get that number to 1,500, which some lawyers consider critical mass for a settlement.
The defendant companies argue they can’t be held liable for selling a legal product sold only with a doctor’s prescription whose distribution was controlled and overseen, from manufacturing to retail sales, by federal and state regulators.
The plaintiffs argue manufacturers used a variety of tactics, including misleading marketing materials and highly paid physician-influencers, to convince prescribing physicians their products were safe for treating chronic pain when, in fact, they were highly addictive.
In the March order, Judge Garguilo rejected the defendants’ claim that the FDA has exclusive authority to determine whether, in effect, opioids should be sold for anything other than relieving the pain of terminal illness. Regardless of what the FDA determines, the judge said, the municipal plaintiffs have the right to seek redress for their costs associated with addiction.
“Because the focus of this lawsuit is on the state of scientific knowledge that existed when the defendants made their marketing claims, there is no risk of inconsistent rulings, and none of the current studies will have any bearing on whether the defendants’ representations were misleading when made,” the judge wrote. The court isn’t being asked to decide the risks and benefits of opioids but whether the defendants misrepresented those risks and benefits, he added.
In case the defendants didn’t grasp the judge’s ultimate goal, the judge restated his “previously expressed desire” for a “prompt resolution of this matter.” The federal judge overseeing multidistrict litigation in Ohio, Judge Dan Aaron Polster, has similarly urged defendants to engage in settlement talks, although a global resolution of the litigation could prove difficult to negotiate.
In addition to hundreds of cases consolidated in federal court, the defendants face a wave of litigation in state court, like the New York cases, as well as lawsuits and investigations by state attorneys general and the federal government. Any settlement would have to protect the defendant companies from future lawsuits over the same issue and that may be difficult to negotiate given all the concurrent litigation in different courts. The time has now arrived for Opioid Big Pharma, in all forms to face the facts that for close to 20 years they have flooded the mainstream commerce of America with massive amounts of opiates with little to no oversight, which whether caused by a catastrophic systemic failure on many levels, or simple greed, the time has now come for the opiate industry to face the music of complex litigation in state and federal court venues across the country.
For those looking to tap into the opioid litigation or learn what the current status is in both state and federal court opioid litigation, please visit www.opioidcrisissummit.com where Mass Tort Nexus is hosting national political leaders and lead opiate counsel who are active in the day to day opioid crisis and have the most up to date case information during the two day event taking place July 21-22, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale.