The Opioid Epidemic and State Courts – Why some aren’t filing into Opiate MDL 2804

Florida, Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Massachusetts and others have started  their own Opioid Litigation in state courts across the country

By Mark A. York (December 10, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Opioid abuse has been steadily increasing in the United States, and now state courts are becoming the legal venue of choice for filing lawsuits against the “opioid industry” and there may be a need for partnerships with other organizations to confront this epidemic. Lawsuits have already been filed in federal courts and by 22 U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Opiate Big Pharma. 

For a look at the Federal Opiate Litigation MDL 2804 see “OPIOID-CRISIS-BRIEFCASE -MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION” where states, counties, cities, indian tribes as well as unions, hospitals and individuals have filed more than 1000 lawsuits against the opioid industry as a whole.

BILLIONS IN PROFITS

The pharmaceutical industry spent a vast $6.4 billion in “direct-to-consumer” advertisements to hype new drugs in 2016, according tracking firm Kantar Media. That figure has gone up by 62% since 2012, Kantar Media says. This number may seem large at first but compared to the multi-billions in yearly profits just by opioid manufacturers over the last 15 years, the numbers is small.  Corporate earnings have risen every year since the push to increase opioid prescriptions in every way possible, to became an accepted business model in Big Pharma boardrooms across the country.

Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky, one of the nation’s hardest-hit states, lost more than 1,400 people to drug overdoses that year.

A NEW INFANT NAS MDL 2872

Kevin Thompson of the Opioid Justice Team, has filed a motion for a new prescription opiate related multidistrict litigation, which was heard in front of the JPML panel on November 28, 2018 in New York City, where the panel was requested to designate MDL No. 2872 (INFANTS BORN OPIOID-DEPENDENT PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION) as a new and separate litigation focused on infants born addicted to opiates and suffering from what’s commonly knows as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and numerous other long-term medical issues.

The current Opiate MDL 2804 is not moving litigation related to individuals forward in any way. Thompson’s team is requesting that the infant cases be carved out from the sprawling lawsuit in Cleveland and transferred to a federal judge in West Virginia, one of the hardest hit states where roughly 5 percent of all babies are born dependent on opioids. The overall Infant NAS MDL 2872 docket can be viewed here MDL 2872 Infant NAS Re-infants-born-opioid-dependent-products-liability-litigation docket.

The misuse of opioids starting with the flood of prescription pain medicines, which has cast a wide net to now include heroin, fentanyl, morphine, and other drugs both legal and illegal is a serious national problem. In 2015 one in ten Americans reported using an illicit drug in the past 30 days.[1] Marijuana use and the misuse of prescription pain relievers account for the majority of illicit drug use. Of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older who had a substance-use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance-use disorder involving prescription pain relievers, and 586,000 had a substance-use disorder involving heroin.[2]

 

Widespread use of opioids has had a devastating impact on many communities. In 2014, more people died from drug overdoses than in any year on record, with 78 Americans dying every day from an opioid overdose. Drug overdose now surpasses motor-vehicle crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Most opioid-related overdoses involve prescription painkillers, but a growing number are the result of a powerful combination of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often packaged and sold as heroin. Some of the largest concentrations of overdose deaths were in Appalachia and the Southwest, according to county-level estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[3]

One contributing factor behind the opioid epidemic is the increase in the use of prescription painkillers nationally. From 1991 to 2011, the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed by U.S. pharmacies tripled from 76 million to 219 million.[4] This increase in the use of opioids is unique to America. The United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes roughly 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioid drugs.[5] There is also wide variation from one state to another in opioid-prescribing rates. In 2012 twelve states had more opioid prescriptions than people: Alabama (142.9 per 100 people), Tennessee (142.8), West Virginia (137.6), Kentucky (128.4), Oklahoma (127.8), Mississippi (120.3), Louisiana (118), Arkansas (115.8), Indiana (109.1), Michigan (107), South Carolina (101.8), and Ohio (100.1).[6]

The impact of the opioid epidemic touches every aspect of our public safety and judicial system. Drug-related arrests involving opioids are skyrocketing. In many communities, court dockets and probation caseloads are filled with individuals with opioid-use disorders. Access to treatment, particularly medication-assisted treatment combined with cognitive behavioral interventions, is limited—particularly in rural communities. This epidemic also comes at a price. In 2015 the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services began providing substance-abuse treatment in Ohio’s prisons, spending an estimated $30 million per year on drug treatment in prisons, $4 million on housing for individuals in recovery, and $1 million over two years for naloxone to reverse drug overdoses. The Ohio State Highway Patrol spent over $2 million to expand and improve their crime lab to keep up with substance testing.

In addition to the impact of opioid abuse on the criminal courts, the nation’s family courts and child welfare system are being deeply impacted. A recent report by the Administration for Children and Families shows that after years of decline, the number of children in foster care is rising. Nearly three-quarters of all states reported an increase in the number of children entering foster care from 2014 to 2015. The largest increases occurred in Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Arizona, and Minnesota. From 2012 to 2016, the percentage of removals nationally due to parental substance abuse increased 13 percent to 32.2 percent.

In addition to hundreds of cases consolidated in federal court in Opiate MDL 2804, the defendants face a wave of litigation in state courts as well as civil and criminal investigations by numerous 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 primary federal litigation involving many cities and counties was consolidated by the JPML in December 2017 in a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, in front of Judge Daniel Polster. The defendants include Purdue, J&J, Teva, Endo, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. The federal litigation is growing daily see, Opiate Prescription MDL 2804, US District Court of Ohio link.

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.

The judiciary can play a critical role in addressing the opioid epidemic. In August 2016, representatives from the Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia courts convened for the first-ever Regional Judicial Opioid (RJOI) Summit. The judicial summit brought together multidisciplinary delegates from each state to develop a regional action plan and consider regional strategies to combat the opioid epidemic. RJOI member states continue to work both within their home states and regionally to share promising practices, as well as to implement the objectives of the regional action plan. Courts are encouraged to work with partners in similar ways to:

  • Invest in local, state, and regional multidisciplinary, system-level strategic planning to identify policies or practice changes that can improve treatment engagement and reduce the risk of overdose death. Judges are particularly effective at using their convening power to bring together a variety of agencies and community stakeholders. The sequential intercept model is an effective approach to identifying gaps and opportunities for diverting criminal-justice-involved people to treatment. Communities are encouraged to not focus singularly on heroin use but to focus on substance-use disorders in general. A recent CDC study found that nearly all people who used heroin also used at least one other drug; most used at least three other drugs.[7]
  • Implement law-enforcement diversion programs, prosecutor diversion programs, or both to deflect or divert individuals with substance-use disorders from the criminal justice system into treatment at the earliest possible point.
  • Expand court diversion and sentencing options that provide substance-abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Problem-solving courts, such as adult drug courts or veterans treatment courts, are the most notable examples of effective approaches.  
  • Incorporate strategic screening questions designed to identify criminal-justice-involved individuals at high-risk for overdose death into all criminal-justice-agency intake forms. Specifically, research suggests that individuals with a history of non-fatal overdoses, individuals with a history of opioids in combination with benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam) and Soma (Carisoprodol), and individuals with an opioid-use disorder recently released from a confined environment (e.g., residential treatment or incarceration) are at particular risk for overdose death. This population should be prioritized for treatment and overdose-prevention services, such as naloxone access.

On January 24, 2017, the Bureau of Justice Assistance released funding for a “Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program.” Through this solicitation, courts and their partners may implement overdose outreach projects, technology-assisted treatment programs, and diversion and alternatives to incarceration.

What remains to be seen is where and how the directly affected “individuals” who were prescribed millions of addictive opiates and subsequently became addicted and where thousands more overdosed and died, remains to be seen.

Who will be the advocate to make sure that these individuals as well as their children, families and communities as a whole are placed on the road to recovery. Historically, Big Pharma is not an industry to put the best interests of the paying consumer at the forefront of their agendas.

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[1] Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health” (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51), report prepared for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, Maryland, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/.

[2] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015).

[3] L. M. Rossen, B. Bastian, M. Warner, D. Khan, and Y. Chong, “Drug Poisoning Mortality: United States, 1999–2014,” National Center for Health Statistics, 2016.

[4] National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Prescription Opioids and Heroin,” Research Report Series, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Washington, D.C., 2015. Retrieved from https://d14rmgtrwzf5a.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/rx_and_heroin_rrs_layout_final.pdf.

[5] L. Manchikanti and A. Singh, “Therapeutic Opioids: A Ten-Year Perspective on the Complexities and Complications of Escalating Use, Abuse, and Nonmedical Use of Opioids,” Pain Physician 11, 2nd supp. (2008): S63-S88.

[6] L. J. Paulozzi, K. A. Mack, and J. M. Hockenberry, “Vital Signs: Variation Among States in Prescribing Pain Relievers and Benzodiazepines—United States,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, 2014.

[7] National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2011-2013.

 

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