Opioid Epidemic Lawsuit Coordination To Be Considered At Nov. 30 Hearing

A panel of federal judges will hear oral arguments next month, over whether all opioid epidemic lawsuits filed by communities nationwide should be consolidated before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings. 

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued a notice of hearing session (PDF) this month, indicating that a motion to centralize cases brought against opioid manufacturers and retailers nationwide will be considered during a hearing set for November 30, in St. Louis, Missouri.

On September 25, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer all lawsuits over the opioid abuse epidemic, indicating that cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide should be handled in the Southern District of Ohio to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

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Each of the opioid epidemic claims raise similar allegations, indicating that negligence, false advertising and aggressive marketing tactics led to nationwide addiction problems that are now costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars in treatment and law enforcement efforts.

Most of the cases have been filed by local governmental entities against the leading manufacturers of the prescription painkillers, including Purdue, Teva/Cephalon, Janssen, Endo, Actavis, and Mallinckrodt, as well as the distributors McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc.

There are currently at least 66 substantially similar claims filed by cities and counties, which are now pending in 11 different federal district courts. However, 14 of those cases have been filed in the Southern District of Ohio; the state many say has been hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

Defendants have been split in their positions on whether the cases should be consolidated, with some manufacturers supporting consolidation and others opposing. Those opposed cite differences between the various opioid drugs and manufacturers, among other factors, as a reason not to centralize the litigation.

However, plaintiffs noted in an October 27 reply brief in support of consolidation (PDF) that even those opposed to the creation of an opioid lawsuit MDL admit that the cases involve common questions of fact. The brief argues that the differences in chemical composition from one opioid to another is irrelevant.

“Aside from Manufacturers and Distributor Defendants’ support for centralization, the nature of subject actions themselves justify industry-wide centralization,” the brief states. “The subject actions allege that manufacturers and distributors in the opioid industry formed enterprises for the purpose of increasing profits by illegally marketing, manufacturing, and distributing of prescription opioids, subjecting them to joint and several liability. Furthermore, the subject actions allege claims premised on similar legal and factual theories based on industry-wide practices.”

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.

The epidemic is only worsening. Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. last year was enough for every American to be medicated 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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