A lawsuit filed by three heavily-populated counties and one municipality in California against four drugmakers, over claims that the pharmaceutical companies’ deceptive marketing practices helped fuel the opioid epidemic, started yesterday, becoming just the second opioid lawsuit to go to trial.
The plaintiffs are the counties of Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Orange as well as the city of Oakland, and names Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical, Endo International and Allergan as defendants. The defendants are accused of downplaying the addictive nature of their respective opioid medications.
According to Reuters, the trial is virtual and non-jury. Should a judge find the drugmakers liable, they may have to pay more than $50 billion to cover the costs of mitigating the public nuisance they created. The plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages.
Per the Reuters report, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Fidelma Fitzpatrick, told Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson that the case was about the companies’ “deadly legacy” of promoting opioid painkillers to treat chronic pain, resulting in a “mountain” of addictive pills flooding the state and country. In 2017 alone, more than 47,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses, although some of those deaths were attributed to illicit opioid drugs.
Fitzpatrick said, “The evidence will show each of these companies, all of them, knew what would happen: that their opioids would cause the crushing burden of addiction, overdose and death that California and its people have experienced.”
Attorneys for the drug companies countered that the plaintiffs could not prove that the opioid drugs manufactured by the defendants directly contributed to the health crisis. Furthermore, defense lawyers argued, the drugs in question were just a drop in the overall bucket of the opioid drug market, and the doctors were indeed warned of addiction risks.
Attorney for Johnson & Johnson, Mike Yoder, claims that J&J’s opioid drug, which is no longer on the market, did not contribute to the opioid crisis.
According to Reuters, more than 3,300 other opioid lawsuits are pending around the nation. Thus far, only one other opioid case has gone to trial. In 2019, Oklahoma won a $465 judgement against Johnson & Johnson. J&J has appealed the decision. However, in the next few months, other cases are slated for trial. This may put pressure on opioid drug makers to propose a settlement.
Reuters adds that the three largest drug distributors in the US – McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health – have, along with J&J, proposed paying a combined $26 billion to resolve the cases against them. The proposed deal has not been finalized.