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Opioid Abuse Lawyers Seek Leadership Positions Federal MDL

The federal judge presiding over all opioid abuse and addiction lawsuits brought by municipalities nationwide, has outlined the process for attorneys to seek various leadership positions in the recently established federal multidistrict litigation (MDL). 

The lawsuits seek damages from manufacturers and distributors of powerful narcotic pain killers, which have been linked to a nationwide epidemic of drug abuse, overdoses and deaths. The complaints involve a wide range of manufacturers, including Purdue, Teva/Cephalon, Janssen, Endo, Actavis, and Mallinckrodt, as well as the distributors McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all of the opioid lawsuits before U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in the Northern District of Ohio for pretrial proceedings. The cases are centralized to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

Since then, a number of plaintiffs’ attorneys have filed proposals seeking leadership positions in the litigation, such as co-lead counsel, co-liaison counsel and positions on an executive committee. That proposal has resulted in some objections by other attorneys.

In a court order (PDF) issued on December 21, Judge Polster indicates that the objections boil down to three points: first, that the Executive Committee should include at least one lawyer handling cases brought on behalf of hospital systems; second, that there should be a separate track for third-party payor claims; and third, that the organizational process was neither fair, nor open and transparent.

As a result, Judge Polster is requiring the leadership team to include at least one attorney for third-party payor cases, and at least one handling hospital cases. He also ruled that the Executive Committee should include no more than one person from any one law firm.

“The Court does not want to micro manage or direct either side on how to organize itself, but it is important that the attorneys and parties believe that the process is fair, open and transparent,” he said in the order.

He has directed applicants for leadership positions to apply the new rules and submit a new proposal for filling leadership positions by January 3, 2018. Plaintiffs attorneys filed a new proposal (PDF) the same day the order was issued.

Opioid Abuse Crisis

In the United States, evidence now suggests that drug overdoses kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined. In fact, between 1999 and 2015, more than 560,000 people died from drug overdoses. Even as abuse has seemingly decreased, opioid overdose deaths have increased.

In 2015, two-thirds of drug overdoses were linked to opioids, including Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl, which on its own is largely driving the number of opioid deaths.

Americans use more opioids than any other country in the world, with the number of prescriptions in the U.S. last year providing enough pills to medicate every American 24 hours a day for three weeks consecutively. Opioid overdoses kill more than 90 Americans every day, experts say, and the economic burden of opioid misuse costs the country $78.5 billion per year.

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