Judge Overseeing Local Opioid Lawsuits Hopes for ‘Meaningful’ Settlement

By | January 10, 2018

The judge overseeing U.S. cities’ and counties’ lawsuits against makers of opioid painkillers said he hopes a sweeping resolution can be worked out by the end of the year that will have a “meaningful impact” on the burgeoning drug epidemic.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster on Tuesday told lawyers representing drugmakers, including Purdue Pharma Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, and governments that he intends to push for a settlement that does more than “just moves money around.”

“We have to dramatically reduce the total number of pills out there, and make sure the pills that are out there are being used properly,” the Cleveland-based judge said. “We all know a lot of those pills have gone walking with devastating results”– referring to the resale of the drugs on the black market.

Polster is overseeing more than 200 cases filed by local governments accusing drugmakers and drug distributors, such as McKesson Corp., of creating a public-health crisis with their mishandling of the powerful drugs, which are blamed for killing 150 Americans daily.

Purdue officials confirmed in November that they are in settlement talks with a group of state attorneys general and trying to come up with a global resolution of the government opioid claims.

The opioid makers are accused in the lawsuits of downplaying the addiction risks and overstating the effectiveness of their drugs. Some of the states hired big-name plaintiffs’ lawyers in hopes of generating a Big Tobacco-style settlement. Cigarette makers agreed in 1999 to pay $246 billion to settle states’ suits that sought to recoup the costs of smoking to society.

Polster sequestered groups of plaintiffs’ lawyers representing cities and counties and drugmakers’ defense lawyers in separate courtrooms Monday in hopes of laying the groundwork for a settlement.

If no deal can be reached, Polster said he’s prepared to try the state of Ohio’s claims against opioid makers in 2019.

“I’ll try the case I have jurisdiction over,” he said. The judge added the opioid crisis is “100 percent man-made” and federal courts are unlikely places to find solutions.

The case is National Prescription Opiate Litigation, 17-md-2804, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio (Cleveland).

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