A panel of federal judges has established consolidated pretrial proceedings for all opioid crisis lawsuits filed by municipalities nationwide, seeking damages from manufacturers and distributors of the powerful narcotic pain killers, which have been linked to a nationwide epidemic of drug abuse, overdoses and deaths.
There are currently at least 64 complaints pending in U.S. District Courts throughout the country, involving 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.
Each of the opioid epidemic claims raise similar allegations, claiming 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.
In September, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer all lawsuits over the opioid abuse epidemic before one judge for pretrial proceedings to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses, and the courts.
Following oral arguments on November 30, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) agreed, issuing a transfer order (PDF) creating an opioid lawsuit multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Northern District of Ohio under U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster.
“After considering the argument of counsel, we find that the actions in this litigation involve common questions of fact, and that centralization in the Northern District of Ohio will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation,” the transfer order states. “Both manufacturers and distributors are under an obligation under the Controlled Substances Act and similar state laws to prevent diversion of opiates and other controlled substances into illicit channels. Plaintiffs assert that defendants have failed to adhere to those standards, which caused the diversion of opiates into their communities.”
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.