A massive lawsuit by 1,500 counties, cities, townships, and other communities nationwide, against the opioid industry has been permitted to move forward by a federal judge in Ohio.
Over the past two years, local and state governments in Mississippi, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Illinois, New York, Washington, and California have all filed separate suits against the various manufacturers, distributors, and sellers comprising the opioid industry.
These local governments allege that the “defendants have contributed to the addiction of millions of Americans to these prescription opioids and to the foreseeable result that many of those addicted would turn to street drugs.” In the past year, the majority of these cases were folded into one giant multidistrict litigation that has been consolidated in the Ohio federal courts.
The defendants in this case include the three largest drug wholesalers in America: AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Cardinal Health. These three entities are commonly referred to as the “Big Three,” accounting for “about 85 percent to 90 percent of all revenues from drug distribution in the United States.”
United States District Judge Dan A. Polster of the Northern District of Ohio rejected Wednesday a Motion to Dismiss by the pharmaceutical corporations, permitting the case to move forward.
Though this has no bearing on whether or not defendants are guilty, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs called the decision “a major step forward for the more than 1,500 communities across the country who have been battling the opioid crisis and demanding accountability from the opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies that are responsible for creating the epidemic.”
The various cases against the pharmaceutical industry closely mirror those made against the tobacco industry in the late ’90s. In 1998, attorneys general representing 46 states settled a lawsuit against the four largest tobacco producers in the United States for harm done to millions of Americans by cigarette use. In the final settlement, the industry was forced to pay a minimum of $206 billion during the first 25 years of its establishment. The lawsuit also shut down much of the tobacco lobbying apparatus. What mirrors the opioid epidemic most notably was the alleged attempts by the pharmaceutical industry to downplay and actively mislead patients of the health risks associated with opioids.
“Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths,” according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In 2015, 9.96 million prescriptions for opioids were written in Ohio, greatly exceeding the national average by almost 16 prescriptions per 100 persons.
Judge Poster concluded his decision by stating:
It is accurate to describe the opioid epidemic as a man-made plague, twenty years in the
making. The pain, death, and heartache it has wrought cannot be overstated. As this Court has previously stated, it is hard to find anyone in Ohio who does not have a family member, a friend, a parent of a friend, or a child of a friend who has not been affected.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].