By Mark A. York (May 24, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) The first of many opioid litigation trials where states, counties and cities have filed lawsuits against the Opioid Big Pharma industry and it’s affiliates, is now set in Oklahoma where Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman set May 28, 2019 for the start of the trial. The trial date date has been anticipated in the lawsuit by the State of Oklahoma against pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic, according to Oklahoma‘s attorney general Mike Hunter. See Original Complaint – State of Oklahoma vs. Purdue Pharma et al, June 30, 2017 (Cleveland County, OK District Court)
To summarize the view in Oklahoma and other states who are pursuing the Opioid prescription drugmakers in courts all across the country, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter stated in his filings “Defendants created the worst public health crisis in modern history. Families destroyed,”adding “Children killed. Babies addicted. Morgues overflowing. Prisons full.” This is a common view across the entire United States at this point.
Oklahoma, one of at least 13 states that have filed lawsuits against drugmakers, alleges fraudulent marketing of drugs that fueled the opioid epidemic in the lawsuit filed in June 2017, and seeks unspecified damages from Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals and several of their subsidiaries.
“We appreciate the urgency Judge (Thad) Balkman saw in getting the case to trial,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “Oklahomans who have suffered immeasurably from the years of fraudulent marketing campaigns will see this case resolved sooner rather than later.” Hunter said Balkman scheduled the trial to begin May 28, 2019.
For up to date information on the Opioid Litigation across the country see, OPIOID-CRISIS-BRIEFCASE-INCLUDING-MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION (https://www.masstortnexus.com/Briefcases/Drugs/254/)
Within the last 2 weeks, state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee lawsuits have now joined many other states who have filed lawsuits asserting that Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids. The lawsuits also names pharmaceutical manufacturers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corporation.
“It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.
Others joining Oklahoma, are states who’ve previously filed claims against opiate drugmakers, including Ohio, Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina and Washington state. West Virginia has been catastrophically affected by the opioid crisis and has previously attempted to stop Opioid Big Pharma from pushing opiates into their communities, without much success. See How drug companies submerged West Virginia in opioids for years: “A small West Virginia town of 3,000 people got 21 million pills”
Medical professionals say a shift in the 1990s to “institutionalize” pain management opened the doors for pharmaceutical companies to encourage doctors to massively increase painkiller prescriptions, and Purdue Pharma led that effort. Which is now directly linked to the massive increase in drug overdoses, now see as the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
OxyContin was launched in the mid-90s by Purdue Pharma and aggressively marketed as a safe way to treat chronic pain. But it created dependency in many even as prescribed, and the pills were easy to abuse. Mass overprescribing has led to an addiction and overdose catastrophe across the US, more recently rippling out into rising heroin and fentanyl deaths.
Opioid overdoses made up a staggering 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016, surpassing the annual number of lives lost to breast cancer.
Florida and the other states also, named drug makers Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp. The distributors played a part in opioid abuse through oversupply, including failing to identify suspicious orders and report them to authorities, including the DEA and other oversight agencies, contributing to an illegal secondary market in prescription opioids, such as Purdue’s OxyContin, Endo’s Percocet and Insys Therapeutics fentanyl drug Subsys, a fast acting and extremely addictive drug.
The companies deny wrongdoing and say they complied with Federal Drug Administration requirements that include warning labels showing potential risks that come with using their drugs. “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement Friday. “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”
In announcing his office’s lawsuit in May 2017, Ohio Attorney General DeWine said the drug companies helped unleash the crisis by spending millions of dollars marketing and promoting such drugs as Purdue’s OxyContin, without consideration of the long term effects of the related addiction, which Purdue was absolutely aware of throughout the years of profits that now total billions of dollars.
The lawsuit said the drug companies disseminated misleading statements about the risks and benefits of opioids as part of a marketing scheme aimed at persuading doctors and patients that drugs should be used for chronic rather than short-term pain. Pain centers and medical practices across the country started writing an ever increasing number of high dose opioid prescriptions for what would be considered low to mid-level pain treatment.
Similar lawsuits have been filed by local governments, including those in several California counties, as well as the cities of Chicago, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio, three Tennessee district attorneys, and nine New York counties have also filed individual suits.
It is unknown at this time, if all of the legal actions filed by governmental entities across the country will be consolidated into MDL 2804, which may be the most effective way to manage the soon to be massive number of legal claims against Big Pharma and their long term opiate profit centers. Municipalities across the country seeking to recoup the enormous financial losses brought on by the opioid crisis.
The state lawsuits are separate from pending lawsuits in Ohio by dozens of local governments, and lawsuits by Native American tribes in the Dakotas and Oklahoma.
In South Dakota, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate filed a federal lawsuit in January against 24 opioid industry groups. See https://www.indianz.com/News/2018/04/11/navajonationopioid.pdf. n Oklahoma, a federal judge has ruled that another similar lawsuit by the Cherokee Nation cannot be tried in tribal court, and Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree told the Tulsa World that the tribe will re-file the lawsuit in state court.
Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue and the related opioid drug companies and distributors. Purdue, which is a privately held company, owned by the Sackler brothers and family, in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers.
Purdue Pharma is owned by the Sackler family, listed at 19th on the annual Forbes list of wealthiest families in the country at a worth of $13 billion. The family’s fortune largely comes from OxyContin sales, which its company branded and introduced as an extended release painkiller in 1995.
Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits, with Massachusetts last week sending a letter to Purdue notifying the company of its intention to sue. The California and New York attorney general offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, in a statement, denied the accusations, saying its drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and accounted for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions, seemingly ignoring the 600 lawsuits filed against them in the last year, as well as the minimum of 15 federal and state criminal investigations that are underway across the country. At the forefront of the criminal investigations is the U.S. Attorney, John H. Durham, District of Connecticut, U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, based in New Haven, CT the state which is also where Purdue Pharma is headquartered, who is leading a multi-group task force looking into the potential criminal conduct of not only Purdue, but the entire Opiate Big Pharma industry as a whole.
“We are disappointed that after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help these states address the opioid crisis, this group of attorneys general have unilaterally decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process,” Purdue said.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky, one of the nation’s hardest-hit states, lost more than 1,400 people to drug overdoses that year.
Separate litigation involving at least 433 lawsuits by U.S. cities and counties were consolidated in a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. The defendants include Purdue, J&J, Teva, Endo, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. The federal litigation is growing daily see, Opiate Prescription MDL 2804, US District Court of Ohio link.
The federal lawsuits which accuse drugmakers and the opioid industry as a whole, of deceptively marketing opioids and the distributors of ignoring indications that the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the consolidated litigation, has been pushing for a global settlement. He had previously invited state attorneys general with cases not before him to participate in those talks, from the start of the MDL 2804 litigation being assigned to his courtroom.
Despite filing separate lawsuits, the six attorneys general on Tuesday said they would continue to engage in settlement discussions with Purdue and other companies. “You always want to settle and prevent a prolonged litigation,” said Florida’s Bondi. “But we’re sending a message that we’re fully prepared to go to war.”
Will litigation in most every state in the union paired with the National Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 reign in the Opioid industry that’s earned billions and billions of dollars over the last 20 years, all at the expense of the people of the United States and their families? If history is a gauge of how things will end up, chances are a big “NO” as money and greed at the corporate levels have traditionally overruled anything affiliated with long term public health concerns in our for-profit healthcare system currently entrenched in the United States.