Unprecedented Wave of Trials Approaches in Opioid Crisis Litigation

Landmark verdicts and settlements already have occurred in widespread opioid litigation against big pharmaceutical companies. That trend continues as those companies brace for yet another massive wave of trials in upcoming weeks. Calendars from March to May in some of the country’s most significant courts are packed with six opioid trials reminiscent of the first American opioid trials that began almost three years ago. In 2022, 12 opioid trials are scheduled to occur, as many of the big pharmaceutical companies have yet to reach global settlements in these cases.

Rhode Island State Court

The case of State of Rhode Island v. Purdue Pharma LP et al., case number PC-2018-4555, was originally set to begin on March 16. The Superior Court of the State of Rhode Island, County of Providence, pushed back opening arguments to March 21, seemingly in anticipation of settlement. The Rhode Island Attorney General announced that it had struck a deal with Teva Pharmaceuticals and several of its affiliates. The settlement is worth about $100 million, including cash of $21 million paid over 13 years and drug donations to treat opioid addiction. More specifically, Rhode Island will receive 50,000 kits, or a ten-year supply, of Naloxone, valued at $62.5 million, and $16 million of Suboxone from Teva. Naloxone treats opioid overdoses, and Suboxone treats opioid use disorder.

Teva had been the sole remaining defendant set to proceed to trial after the Rhode Island AG reached earlier settlements with the other defendants. Teva has previously taken two other opioid cases to trial, one in California, which it won, and one in New York, which it lost. Teva also has reached settlements in opioid cases with the states of Texas and Louisiana.

Georgia State Court

All opioid cases have relied on a legal theory that drug companies have created a “public nuisance” and must bear the costs of cleaning up that nuisance through opioid use treatment and prevention. The case of Poppell et al. v. Cardinal Health et al., case number CE19-00472, is different. The plaintiffs, in this case, consist of twenty-one private citizens who are the spouses, children, siblings, and parents of people who became addicted to opioids. Most of the plaintiffs are minor children. They seek compensation from Cardinal Health and other pharmaceutical companies for their losses under the Georgia Drug Dealer Liability Act.

A trial in this case, pending in the Superior Court for the State of Georgia, County of Brunswick, was scheduled to begin on March 21, 2022. However, the court notified jurors that they were excused and that the trial would not go forward on that date due to an “attorney conflict.”

Florida State Court

Trial in the case of State of Florida v. Purdue Pharma et al., case number 2018-CA-001438, was scheduled to begin in the Circuit Court for the State of Florida, County of Pasco, Sixth Judicial District on April 4, 2022. The Florida Attorney General had previously settled with several defendants in the suit. Still, it was set to go to trial against drug companies Teva and Allergan, as well as against pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens.

Allergan, CVS, and Teva announced a settlement deal on March 30, 2022, by which they will pay the state of Florida $879 million over as long as 18 years. CVS agreed to shoulder $484 million of the deal due to its failure to monitor opioid prescriptions in the state, which led to a Justice Department suit against the chain. Allergan will pay $134 million over ten years, whereas Teva will pay $177 million over 15 years and donate $84 million worth of opioid overdose drugs to the state. As a result, the trial did not proceed as planned against these defendants, although the trial was still scheduled against Walgreens and other defendants.

West Virginia State Court

Opening arguments commenced on April 4, 2022, in the opioid crisis cases before the Circuit Court of West Virginia, County of Kanawha. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey launched his opening arguments against Teva, Allergan, and Janssen over allegations that the drug companies were responsible for a drug epidemic that has ruined families, led to addicted newborns, and caused more than 10,000 deaths over ten years.

West Virginia’s case rests on alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act, the West Virginia Controlled Substances Act, and the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, covering unfair or deceptive trade practices.

Lawyers for the respective drug companies pushed back on the state’s claims, claiming that the percentage of opioids that West Virginia doctors prescribed was small, that the doctors appropriately prescribed the drugs, and that the companies used no improper marketing tactics to influence doctors to prescribe the drugs.

The cases are State of West Virginia ex rel. Morrisey v. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, case number 19-C-104, and State of West Virginia ex rel. Morrisey v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. et al., case number 19-C-105.

San Francisco Federal Court

The case of City and County of San Francisco et al. v. Purdue Pharma LP et al., case number 3:18-cv-07591, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is scheduled to go to trial on April 25, 2022. This case is distinct in that it is acting as a bellwether case for multidistrict litigation.

San Francisco has one of the highest opiate overdose rates in the country. Government officials estimate that city streets contain upwards of 25,000 intravenous drug users, which has easily tripled in recent years. The upcoming trial against Allergan, Teva, Endo, and Walgreens will focus on liability. If any of the companies are found liable, the court will schedule separate proceedings on damages. There is also some question about whether a victory for drugmakers in a Southern California court last year would impact any of the claims if it holds up on appeal.

Ohio Federal Court

Another multidistrict litigation bellwether case is scheduled for a May 10 damages trial in an Ohio federal court. A jury found CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart liable for misuse of prescription narcotics in Lake and Trumbull Counties after a trial in November 2021. The counties will now likely request a remedial plan that would require the defendants to pay about $3 million over 15 years. Meanwhile, Walgreens and Walmart have appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked that it block the remedies trial based on alleged errors by the district court judge, including issues related to juror misconduct.

The cases are County of Lake v. Purdue Pharma LP et al., case number 1:18-op-45032; County of Trumbull v. Purdue Pharma LP et al., case number 1:18-op-45079; and In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation, case number 1:17-md-02804, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

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