Opioid Lawsuit Centralization Sought for Claims Over Addiction and Abuse

With a growing number of cities and counties filing opioid lawsuits against various pharmaceutical manufacturers throughout the federal court system, each involving similar claims that the companies’ actions led to widespread abuse and addiction problems, a request has been filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to centralize the cases before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings. 

In a motion to transfer (PDF) filed on September 25, a group of plaintiffs asked that all lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system over the opioid abuse epidemic be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

All of the claims contain similar allegations that negligence, false advertising and aggressive marketing tactics by the manufacturers led to the nationwide opioid abuse epidemic, costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

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The opioid addiction and abuse lawsuits have been filed by 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.

Plaintiffs say that the creation of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) would reduce duplicative discovery into common issues raised in the cases, avoid contradictory pretrial rulings from different judges and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

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.

“The escalating opioid addiction crisis has become the subject of litigation nationwide, as local governments seek the resources necessary to address and abate the tragic epidemic afflicting their communities,” the motion states. “Cases against opioid manufacturers and distributors are pending in federal courts from coast to coast. While the effects are felt in hard-hit local communities, evidence and facts proving how this happened and who is to blame are in significant part uniform.”

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.

According to the motion, opioid overdoses kill more than 90 Americans every day, and the economic burden of opioid misuse costs the country $78.5 billion per year.

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