Suboxone MDL Judge Rejects Drug Makers’ Request for Phased Discovery in Tooth Decay Lawsuits

As a result of the order, lawsuits over Suboxone tooth decay will move forward with a standard discovery process, preparing a small group of representative cases for early test trials in the federal MDL.

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Suboxone tooth decay lawsuits has denied a request filed by the drug maker to restrict early discovery in the litigation, indicating that a “phased” approach will not materially expedite the litigation or simplify proceedings in the MDL.

There are currently more than 10,000 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system against Indivior, Inc. and Reckitt Benckiser LLC, each raising similar allegations that the drug makers failed to adequately warn users and the medical communities about tooth decay risks linked to Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone), which is a prescription treatment for individuals dealing with addiction to opioid pain medications.

Since each of the claims raise nearly identical allegations, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated pretrial proceedings in February 2024, centralizing Suboxone lawsuits brought throughout the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Philip Calabrese in the Northern District of Ohio for coordinated discovery and a series of early bellwether trials.

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Early in the proceedings, the drug makers filed a motion to bifurcate the proceedings, seek to prioritize discovery into the link between Suboxone and tooth decay before any individual claims were prepared for trial.

Last month, Plaintiffs filed a brief in opposition to the Suboxone phased discovery approach, indicating that there is little to no dispute among experts and scientists over the existence of Suboxone tooth decay risks. Therefore, they argued that splitting the proceedings would only serve to delay preparing individual cases to go before juries.

In a court order (PDF) issued on June 24, Judge Calabrese sided with plaintiffs and rejected Indivior’s proposal.

“In this MDL, Defendants’ proposal threatens to limit the scientific evidence on general causation to an artificially narrow body of knowledge that would likely interfere with the search for the truth of general causation or render any such determination unreliable or too attenuated from real-world science,” Judge Calabrese wrote in his ruling. “Nor does Defendants’ proposal present a workable or efficient sequencing of discovery. It will do little to advance the overall progress of the MDL or the individual cases in it.”

He indicated that, for now, the Court will continue to move through standard discovery proceedings and will soon set an appropriate schedule to prepare cases for early trial dates.

While the outcome of any future bellwether trials scheduled in the MDL will not be binding on all claimants, the cases will be closely watched to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation, and the average Suboxone tooth decay lawsuit payouts awarded by juries may have a big impact on the amount of any settlement the drug maker may end up paying to avoid the need for each individual claim to go before juries in the future.

Image Credit: PureRadiancePhoto

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