USA: Rise in opioids deaths leads state officials to file claims against drug firms and distributors

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Article
5 June 2018

Drugmakers, in Bid to Extinguish Opioid Suits, Say There's No 'Viable Legal Theory'

Author: Amanda Bronstad, National Law Review (USA)

Drug companies defending opioid lawsuits have fired back in the federal court handling the sprawling litigation...The companies—manufacturers and distributors of the prescription painkillers, and retail pharmacies—outlined their defenses in motions to dismiss lawsuits brought by the cities of Cleveland and Chicago, and two Ohio counties... U.S. District Judge Dan Polster...overseeing multidistrict litigation over the opioid crisis...selected those cases for limited discovery...[P]laintiffs amended many of the complaints last month after getting information from a drug database controlled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.  That prompted motions to dismiss filed by manufacturers Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, Insys Therapeutics Inc., Mallinckrodt and Noramco; distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp.; and four pharmacies: Rite Aid Corp., Walgreens, Walmart Inc. and CVS.  Most of the defendants have publicly insisted they weren’t to blame for the opioid epidemic.  In motions filed on May 25, the defendants generally alleged the cities and counties lacked standing to sue in federal courts—either because they had no authority or failed to allege the appropriate injuries in order to do so.  They also argued that since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved opioids, federal regulations pre-empted the state law claims...Here are some additional arguments in the motions:

    Opioids come with clear risks of addiction and overdose.
    The complaints fail to allege a specific misrepresentation on which a doctor relied in writing an opioid prescription.
    Companies had a duty to the DEA, not the plaintiffs, to monitor suspicious drug orders.
    Plaintiffs failed to allege unjust enrichment because they conferred no benefit on the companies.
    Participation in a trade association did not show a civil conspiracy among the companies.

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Article
7 May 2018

Opioid litigation-funding deals are up for federal judge's review

Author: Jef Feeley, Andrew M Harris, Bloomberg (USA)

The judge overseeing more than 600 lawsuits targeting opioid makers is demanding local governments’ lawyers turn over information about any litigation-funding agreements and provide assurance that lenders won’t gain control over legal strategy or settlements.  U.S. District Judge Dan Polster...issued the order...saying he wants to ensure the agreements don’t create conflicts of interest by affecting plaintiffs lawyers’ judgments in pursuing cases against opioid makers, such as Purdue Pharma LLP and Johnson & Johnson, and distributors such as McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.  It would be improper for such financing agreements to give lenders “any control over litigation strategy or settlement decisions,’’ Polster said in the order.  At least two litigation-funding firms have ties to lawyers driving the opioid cases.  Such firms provide financing for what may be costly litigation in return for sharing in a verdict or settlement...Polster-ordered settlement talks between pharma companies and local governments continue while both sides prepare for the first trial next year.  State attorneys general also are holding separate settlement negotiations...Polster...wants to know details of any lending arrangements, and he requested sworn statements from the lawyers and lenders that there won’t be any conflicts of interest and that the lenders won’t have control over strategy, advocacy or settlement decisions...

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Article
2 May 2018

Big Pharma must face lawsuit over opioids in Delaware, judge rules

Author: Brittany Horn, The News Journal via Delaware online (USA)

A lawsuit against Big Pharma will stay in Delaware Superior Court despite the efforts of a drug distributor to have the case moved into federal court — where many of these suits are being heard and consolidated into one larger case.  United States District Court Judge Richard Andrews issued the order...in regard to Delaware's case against drug manufacturers, distributors and drugstores...McKesson Corp., a wholesale drug distributor...argued that the charges it faces...fall under the Federal Controlled Substances Act and should not be heard in state court, according to the court filing.  The judge...disagreed...The ruling is significant...as many of these cases...have reached the federal courts and are being consolidated as a result.  The consolidation efforts headed by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster aim to free up courtrooms and hopefully reach resolutions sooner, especially as new cities and counties across the country file these suits daily...But the fillings continue both nationwide and locally...“Opioid manufacturers misrepresented the addictive nature of their products. They, along with national opioid distributors and national pharmacies, knew that they were shipping quantities of opioids around the country so enormous that they could not possibly all be for legitimate medical purposes...” said state Attorney General Matt Denn...Nearly all the companies named in Denn's lawsuit told The News Journal that they are committed to addressing the opioid epidemic and either hope to be a part of the conversation around how to fix it or have already taken steps to address addiction...

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Article
13 April 2018

Opioid judge orders trials, DEA records as 'step toward defeating the disease'

Author: Daniel Fisher, Legal Newsline (USA)

The federal judge overseeing hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors has ordered a series of bellwether trials starting in 2019...U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster in Cleveland ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to turn over detailed information about the quantities of pills defendant companies produced and shipped, citing the DEA’s “failures” to control the epidemic.  The information...will help plaintiffs...identify additional companies to sue...Cities...are seeking compensation from the opioid industry for costs associated with addiction and illegal drug use, as well as changes in how drugs are distributed. Polster oversees...hundreds of federal lawsuits consolidated in a single court for the collection of evidence and other pretrial activities.  But he has no jurisdiction over hundreds more lawsuits filed in state courts around the country...The opioid litigation may be particularly challenging to settle...because of the broad range and size of defendants...Most of the lawsuits claim the drugs represent a public nuisance...Another complication is that most of overdose deaths are caused by illegal drugs..., meaning plaintiffs must prove victims were launched on the path to addiction by legally prescribed opioids or pills that were illegally diverted with the drug companies’ knowledge...

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Article
12 April 2018

Cleveland, Cuyahoga County's opioid lawsuits set as first cases against drug companies to go to trial, judge says

Author: Eric Heisig, cleveland.com (USA)

A federal judge in Cleveland...set a trial date for next year for three lawsuits filed by Northeast Ohio governments against drug companies over the nation's opioid epidemic.  U.S. District Judge Dan Polster wrote that he plans to hold a combined trial for city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Summit County beginning March 18, 2019...Polster is presiding over hundreds of suits against drug manufacturers and distributors filed by governments from every corner of the country.  The trio of Ohio cases would be the first in a series of...test cases that give attorneys an idea of how future cases may play out...The judge also chose cases from West Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Florida and Alabama for possible future bellwether trials...The suits say drug manufacturers overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of addiction when treating pain with opioids, and that distributors failed to properly monitor suspicious orders of painkillers...Polster...ordered the full release of nine years of data the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration collects on prescription drug sales for the six states that will have cases going to trial...

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Article
29 January 2018

Opioid makers face hundreds of lawsuits for misleading doctors about drug’s addictive nature

Author: Jerry Mitchell, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion Ledger, USA Today

The federal judge overseeing about 200 lawsuits against opioid makers would rather curb the opioid epidemic than referee the litigation...Opioid litigation...reached a flood last year when about 250 cities, counties and states sued opioid makers, wholesalers, distributors and marketers.  The lawsuits accuse the companies of misleading health care professionals and the public by marketing opioids as rarely addictive and a safe substitute for non-addictive pain medications, such as ibuprofen.  The companies deny the claims and say litigation should be halted until the Food and Drug Administration-ordered studies on the long-term risks and benefits of opioids are completed.  Experts say the sheer number of opioid lawsuits could lead some companies to settle...Some hospitals are suing, too...Every state attorney general has either filed a lawsuit against opioid makers or is involved in investigating whether these drugmakers misled health care providers about the addictiveness to opioids. 

 

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Article
23 January 2018

Mayor de Blasio Announces Lawsuit Against Nation's Largest Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors

Author: Office of New York City Mayor

Mayor Bill de Blasio.. announced the City had filed a lawsuit...in New York State Supreme Court to hold manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids to account for their part in the City’s ongoing deadly opioid epidemic.  The lawsuit aims to recover half a billion dollars in current and future costs the City will incur to combat this epidemic.  In 2016, more than 1,000 people in New York City died in a drug overdose which involved an opioid, the highest year on record...The City joins hundreds of municipalities across New York State and the nation as it seeks to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for their illegal actions...[T]he lawsuit alleges that the opioid crisis caused by manufacturers’ deceptive marketing, and distributors’ flooding of prescription painkillers into New York City has placed a substantial burden on the City through increased substance use treatment services...manufacturers sought to create a false perception that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks.  This was perpetrated through a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive promotion and marketing campaign...Distributor defendants...have failed to use these tools to warn public officials about suspicious orders...[Also refers to Cardinal Health, Cephalon, Endo, Watson]

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Article
22 January 2018

'I don’t know how they live with themselves' – artist Nan Goldin​ takes on the billionaire family behind OxyContin

Author: Joanna Walters, The Guardian

...In 2014, Goldin was prescribed...OxyContin for painful tendonitis in her left wrist.  She promptly became addicted, despite taking the pills exactly as prescribed...When...doctors refused to supply her any more, she turned to the black market...[S]he...realised the branded medicine was prime suspect in the opioid crisis that has ripped through the US over the past 20 years.  The epidemic has killed more than 200,000 people so far...Synthetic opioids mimic the effects of natural opioid drugs...and their use, on prescription, is spreading...causing alarm among health experts...[T]he Sacklers, who are based in New York, have donated millions to the arts and sponsored faculties at Yale and many other universities...But few know their wealth comes from Purdue Pharma, a private Connecticut company the family developed and wholly owns.  In 1995, the company revolutionised the prescription painkiller market with the invention of OxyContin...After winning government approval it was hailed as a medical breakthrough...It was aggressively marketed to doctors – many of whom were...given misleading information...while patients were wrongly told the pills were a reliable long-term solution to chronic pain...Goldin...has created a campaign to try to shame the family into paying for rehab and overdose antidotes...Three Purdue Pharma executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors and patients about OxyContin’s risk of addiction and its potential to be abused...OxyContin is widely considered to be ground zero in the US opioid epidemic...Four out of five people in the US who try heroin today started with prescription painkillers, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine...

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Article
7 December 2017

USA: Multidistrict litigation will look into drug manufacturers & distributors' alleged contribution to opioid deaths

Author: Eric Heisig, cleveland.com (USA)

" Cleveland federal judge to hear dozens of lawsuits filed against Big Pharma nationwide ", 5 Dec 2017

A longtime Cleveland federal judge will preside over [64] lawsuits filed by cities and counties across the country that accuse drug manufacturers and distributors of heavily contributing to the deadly opioid epidemic in which the country currently finds itself...Multidistrict litigation is a way for federal courts to have similar cases under one umbrella to speed up procedures such as discovery and pre-trial rulings.  The cases can be settled under this process as well, though a case is sent back to its original court if it goes to trial.  Some high-profile cases have been handled with multidistrict litigation...While the list assigned to Polster does not include every case filed by cities, counties and states in the wake of the opioid crisis, additional federal cases with similar claims could be sent to him.  Polster would also coordinate with judges and parties for cases filed in state courts...Ohio also "has a strong factual connection to this litigation," because of the thousands of opioid deaths the state has seen and the money it has paid to battle the epidemic, the order says...

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Article
27 June 2017

USA: Opioids deaths lead state officials to target drug firms, following model of lawsuits against tobacco industry

Author: German Lopez, Vox (USA)

"US officials are starting to treat opioid companies like Big Tobacco — and suing them", 7 Jun 2017

…This year, multiple lawsuits have been launched against opioid manufacturers and distributors.  With the opioid crisis now having resulted in more than 300,000 deadly opioid overdoses since 1999...there’s a push to hold accountable the people and companies behind the products…These lawsuits get to the two major legal arguments that different jurisdictions are raising against opioid makers and distributors:

1. Starting in the mid-1990s, opioid manufacturers unleashed a misleading marketing push underplaying the risks of prescription opioids and exaggerating the drugs’ proven benefits. This, the lawsuits argue, adds up to false advertising with deadly consequences — by encouraging doctors to overprescribe the pills and getting patients to think the pills were safe and effective.

2. Opioid distributors supplied a ton of these pills, even when they should have known they were going to people who were misusing the drugs...

Opioid manufacturers and distributors, of course, ferociously deny these allegations...

Purdue [Pharma] gave a comment...: “We share the...concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions...[W]e are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone [medication to block the effects of opioids] — all important components for combating the opioid crisis.”

[refers to Allergan, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Cephalon (part of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries), CVS, Endo, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (part of Johnson & Johnson), Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, McKesson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Walgreen, Walmart]

 

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