Litigation Update: Status of Opioid Lawsuits

by | Jun 5, 2019


On May 26, days before the company was scheduled to start trial, the world’s largest generic drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to an $85 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma.  The Oklahoma lawsuit had accused Teva of fueling the state’s opioid crisis with its deceptive marketing and production of both generic and branded opioid drugs. The funds from the settlement will be used in part to fight the opioid epidemic which according to Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter has led to 4,653 opioid overdose deaths in his state between 2007 and 2017.

This is the second settlement for the state of Oklahoma in its fight against the opioid crisis. In March, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, agreed to a settlement of $270 million.

Johnson & Johnson is the sole remaining defendant in the Oklahoma opioid lawsuit which proceeded to trial last week; the state is claiming that J&J created a public nuisance by creating an oversupply and pushing its drugs into the state. The allegation is that this has in turn resulted in an increase in the number of users who have become addicted, as well as those who have died from an opioid overdose, because of the increased availability of opiates.

The case is being tried as a bench trial before Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman; it is expected to take two months.

To date, there are about 2,000 opioid lawsuits that have been filed against drug companies in the U.S. The lawsuit in Oklahoma is the first that has gone to trial and the result could set a precedent for how these cases are handled in other jurisdictions.

Other State Opioid Lawsuits

On June 3, California joined the states who have sued the drug manufacturers and distributors, filing suit against Purdue Pharma and alleging that the company’s marketing and sale of its drug Oxycontin had contributed to the state-wide opioid crisis.  The opioid lawsuit also names former Purdue president Richard S. Sackler, accusing the company of engaging in deceptive marketing practices that claimed Oxycontin was safe and effective for the treatment of chronic pain, resulting in the overdose deaths of more than 145,000 California residents between 2008 and 2017.

California was joined by Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia who also filed suit against Purdue and Sackler, citing the company’s marketing campaign that claimed that drugs containing oxycodone like Oxycontin were non-addictive.  The Maine lawsuit also names Jonathan Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler and Kathe Sackler, all who have at one time served as members of the board of Purdue Pharma.

The city of Yonkers has also filed suit against the opioid manufacturers and distributors including Purdue Pharma alleging that the company’s deceptive marketing practices have led to a crisis for the city as it attempts to provide services for addicted individuals.

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