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Efforts to Settle Opioid Litigation to be Sole Focus of MDL Conference

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal opioid lawsuits has indicated that a conference tomorrow will be focused entirely on discussing the possibility for a quick resolution and settlement of claims brought by communities and states nationwide. 

There are currently more than 200 complaints filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, each seeking damages from manufacturers and distributors of powerful opioid-based 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 cases before U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in the Northern District of Ohio for coordinated discovery and 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.

Judge Polster recently told attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants that he wants any resolution to significantly reduce the number of opioid pills currently available, and 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 early in the litigation.

In an order (PDF) issued on January 24, Judge Polster clarified an order from earlier this month scheduling a conference for January 31, noting that the entire conference is to be dedicated to preliminary settlement discussions. In another court order (PDF) filed on the same day, the Judge also noted that any State Attorney General who wished to attend the conference could do so, or they could send a representative.

Judge Polster also indicate that state attorneys general should not feel compelled to take part in the conference, and asked any who planned to attend to notify the court if they intend to appear.

The joint agenda (PDF) for the conference was released on January 26.

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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