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Opioid Drug Settlements Pushed Early in Federal MDL

The U.S. District Judge recently appointed to preside over the federal opioid abuse and addiction litigation is pushing the parties to reach a meaningful settlement by the end of this year, as a growing number of cities, communities and other parties file lawsuits against the manufacturers of the powerful pain medications for costs associated with the nationwide opioid epidemic in the United States.

There are currently more than 200 opioid lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide, each seeking damages from manufacturers and distributors of powerful narcotic pain killers, including Purdue, Teva/Cephalon, Janssen, Endo, Actavis, and Mallinckrodt, as well as the distributors McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc.

In December, 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.

According to a report published by Bloomberg News, Judge Polster told attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants this week that he wanted a resolution that would significantly reduce the number of opioid pills currently available, and that would put into place safeguards to make sure the addictive medications are used properly.

In early December, Purdue Pharma announced that it was in settlement talks with attorneys general from a number of states, who have also filed a number of lawsuits over the opioid abuse epidemic. Purdue is the creator of OxyContin, one of the most popular and widely abused opioid drugs.

Reports indicate that states are seeking a multi-billion dollar payout, similar to how tobacco was handled. Judge Polster reportedly began pushing for the groundwork of an opioid drug settlement for the claims filed by cities and counties on Monday, early in the litigation.

Judge Polster approved proposed leadership positions (PDF) for plaintiffs’ attorneys on January 4, appointing three co-lead counsels, three co-liaison counsels, and a 16-member executive committee. These attorneys will undertake actions that would seek to benefit all plaintiffs involved in the litigation.

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.

Judge Polster indicated that if an opioid drug settlement agreement cannot be reached, he anticipates that the first trial would involve an Ohio case and could begin as early as next year.

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