The opioid crisis has been in litigation for almost twenty years on various fronts, including criminal prosecutions of pharmaceutical executives, civil lawsuits by individuals against drug manufacturers and physicians, class actions by those affected by opioid abuse, and criminal actions filed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”). In the early 2000s, opioid litigation began with individual plaintiffs filing suit against manufacturers and others for damages allegedly related to opioid use. The litigation has since expanded significantly in terms of the type of plaintiffs and defendants, the nature of the claims being asserted, and the damages attributable to the crisis.
The most current and active litigation is that which is pursued by state attorneys general in both federal and state courts to recover monies expended in their respective jurisdictions in response to the opioid epidemic. Additionally, and to a greater extent, individual municipalities, including cities and counties and even tribes like the Cherokee Nation, have filed similar independent actions against drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies. In 2018, more than 400 of the cases filed in courts throughout the United States by individual states, local governments, individuals, and other nongovernmental entities against drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies were consolidated and transferred for pre-trial coordination to the Northern District of Ohio by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation under the multi-district litigation (“MDL”) process set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1407. Since that time, an additional 1500 parties have been added to this consolidated litigation, and there are approximately 330 opioid-related cases pending in various state courts, including fifty-five lawsuits filed by state attorneys general. In fact, in April 2019, plaintiffs’ expert witnesses provided reports that estimated it will cost more than $480 billion to “fix” the crisis.
One clear conclusion that can be drawn from even a cursory review of the nature of the litigation that has arisen over the last twenty years is that nearly every facet of the community, from individuals and families to government entities and corporations, has been affected by the opioid crisis. Another point that cannot be denied is that the prescription drug industry, including manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, played a significantly culpable role in allowing the crisis to develop into its current magnitude. However, what is also clear is that many, many others played supporting roles in this regard, including, but not limited to, individuals, friends; families; governments, both federal and state; licensing boards; and physicians.
Michelle L. Richards,
Pills, Public Nuisance, and Parens Patriae: Questioning the Propriety of the Posture of the Opioid Litigation,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol54/iss2/3
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