Drugmakers Go on Trial Over Opioid Epidemic
By Sara Randazzo
Four drugmakers are slated to go on trial Monday in California
over claims they fed the opioid crisis, in a proceeding that could
help finalize multibillion-dollar settlements between state and
local governments and pharmaceutical companies.
The case is just the second to go to trial out of thousands of
similar lawsuits accusing the drug industry of fueling an opioid
epidemic that has killed nearly 500,000 people since 1999,
according to federal data.
In the trial set to begin Monday fully by videoconference, four
California communities allege that Johnson & Johnson, Teva
Pharmaceutical Ltd., Allergan and Endo International PLC ran
misleading marketing campaigns that played down the risks of opioid
addiction to boost sales of powerful prescription painkillers.
"So many families have been affected, so many lives have ended
or been completely devastated," said Santa Clara County Counsel
James Williams, whose county will be pursuing its claims at trial
alongside those of Los Angeles and Orange counties and the city of
Oakland. "Now the question is, how is there a measure of
accountability for these manufacturers?"
The concept of legally pinning blame for the opioid crisis on
the pharmaceutical industry was a novelty when the case going to
trial was filed in May 2014. Since then, nearly every state and
more than 3,000 counties, Native American tribes, hospitals and
others have sued companies up and down the drug supply chain.
The companies are expected to argue at trial that they marketed
their drugs responsibly with regulatory oversight and that each had
a small fraction of the pill market in the California communities.
A Teva spokeswoman said the company will vigorously defend itself
against the claims but is also ready to settle the opioid
litigation nationally. J&J said it will challenge the claims
and that it worked with regulators to provide appropriate
information on the risks and benefits of its prescription opioids.
AbbVie Inc., which acquired Allergan in 2020, and Endo declined to
Only one other opioid case has gone to trial, resulting in a
$465 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma in
2019. The company is appealing. Several trials slated to take place
last year were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic but are
once again approaching.
The California trial, along with trials expected to start in
West Virginia federal court in May and New York state court in
June, could spur drugmakers and distributors to finalize
settlements to end the lawsuits nationwide.
J&J, along with the three largest drug distributors in the
country, McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal
Health Inc., have offered to pay a collective $26 billion to
resolve their piece of the litigation. Talks between the companies
and states have been under way since late 2019 but have been
delayed by the pandemic as well as details around attorneys' fees
and how to account for communities that opt out of the deal.
Israel-based Teva also made a proposal in 2019 to resolve the
cases, offering to donate a decade's worth of opioid-addiction
treatment drugs along with a cash payment of $250 million.
OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP, one of the original targets of
the California case and the broader opioid litigation, filed for
bankruptcy in 2019 to resolve the liabilities and is currently
negotiating a $10 billion payment plan with creditors.
The first phase of the trial, expected to last for months, would
determine if the companies are liable. If Orange County Superior
Court Judge Peter Wilson decides that they are, the counties next
would argue that they deserve billions of dollars in penalties and
money to help abate the impacts of opioid addiction.
Write to Sara Randazzo at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 18, 2021 11:14 ET (15:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.