California Judge Grants Defense Verdict For Drug Manufacturers In Opioid Crisis Lawsuit

Defense verdict is one of few victories for drug manufacturers, some of whom recently agreed to a $26 billion global settlement

A four-month long trial for an opioid lawsuit ended in a defense verdict in favor of several major drug manufacturers this week, after a California judge found there was insufficient evidence their actions contributed to the ongoing addiction and abuse crisis afflicting the nation.

On Monday, Orange County State Superior Judge Peter Wilson issued a bench decision in a case brought by several California communities, who filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan and Endo Pharmaceuticals in 2014.

The complaint accused the manufacturers of playing a key part in the opioid crisis, which has been linked to the deaths of half a million people in the U.S. since the late 1990s.

In 2013, opioid overdoses accounted for 3,100 deaths, but that number has continued to rise sharply each year. Federal health officials now warn that opioids account for nearly 70% of all drug overdoses, and Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than from a car crash.

A recent report revealed that 2020 had the highest number of U.S. drug overdose deaths in recorded history, largely driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the crisis, numerous states and municipalities filed lawsuits against opioid drug manufacturers and distributors, saying they recklessly endangered the public by failing to provide adequate risk warnings and abuse controls on their products. In addition, the defendants pushed for the widescale use of opioids for any and every pain indication, despite originally claiming the addictive medications were intended for only the most intense pain management needs, such as cancer.

While the same legal arguments were reportedly used in this case that have been presented in massive plaintiff victories and multi-billion dollar settlements in others claims, Judge Wilson rejected it in this trial, saying none of the evidence links the rise in opioid prescriptions to the companies’ actions. However, the decision is tentative, which means it could be challenged before the verdict is finalized.

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The original lawsuit, filed by Orange County, Los Angeles County, Santa Clara County and the City of Oakland sought $50 billion in damages.

The verdict is one of the first and only victories for drug manufacturers facing opioid crisis lawsuits brought by communities nationwide. In July, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergin agreed to a $26 billion settlement with 4,000 state and local governments over nearly identical charges.

The details of the settlement agreement also included a provision requiring Johnson & Johnson to halt sales of opioids nationwide. The distributors also agreed to share their data with an independent monitoring firm, which signatories hope will help detect and prevent the spread of opioid abuse.

Johnson & Johnson will not only stop selling opioids, but the July settlement called for them to not fund or give grants to any third party promoting the sale of opioids, and banned Johnson & Johnson from lobbying on any activities related to opioids.

The settlement agreement resolved more than 3,300 opioid crisis lawsuits filed by communities and states nationwide.


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