Pharmacy chains face their first trial in U.S. opioid litigation

Four large pharmacy chains are set to face their first trial over the deadly U.S. opioid epidemic, creating new pressure to reach settlements with state and local governments who accuse them of contributing to the public health crisis.

The Ohio counties of Lake and Trumbull allege that oversight failures at pharmacies run by Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, CVS Health Corp, Walmart Inc and Giant Eagle Inc led to excessive amounts of opioid pills in their communities.

Lawyers for the counties and companies are set to deliver opening statements on Monday to a federal jury in Cleveland, where thousands of similar lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, drug distributors and pharmacies are pending.

More than 3,300 cases have been brought largely by state and local governments seeking to hold the companies responsible for an opioid abuse epidemic that U.S. government data shows led to nearly 500,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019.

Rite Aid settles bellwether opioid case with Ohio counties

Rite Aid Corp affiliates have settled claims by two Ohio counties that it contributed to the opioid addiction epidemic, just over a month before the case was set to go to trial.

The pharmacy chain operator and Lake and Trumbull counties disclosed the settlement in a motion filed Wednesday in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, to sever Rite Aid from the case. They did not reveal terms of the deal, which must be approved by Lake County Commissioners and Trumbull County Commissioners.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster granted the motion on Thursday.

Johnson & Johnson faces multibillion opioids lawsuit that could upend big pharma

Oklahoma is suing Johnson & Johnson in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit to hold the drug giant responsible for its opioid addiction epidemic.

Day after day, the memos flashing across screens in an Oklahoma courtroom have jarred with the family-friendly public image of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant best known for baby powder and Band-Aid.

In one missive, a sales representative dismissed a doctor’s fears that patients might become addicted to the company’s opioid painkillers by telling him those who didn’t die probably wouldn’t get hooked. Another proposes targeting sales of the powerfully addictive drugs at those most at risk: men under 40.

As the state of Oklahoma’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson has unfolded over the past month, the company has struggled to explain marketing strategies its accusers say dangerously misrepresented the risk of opioid addiction to doctors, manipulated medical research, and helped drive an epidemic that has claimed 400,000 lives over the past two decades.

The prescription opioid epidemic: an update

Since a previous contribution to this journal in 2012,2 the epidemic of opioid abuse has become increasingly frightening and tragic. That contribution focused on the relevance of OxyContin to prescription opioid diversion and abuse, the marketing tactics employed by pharmaceutical companies to promote products, and the associated economic medicalization of substance abuse and addiction. This update details dramatic changes in the epidemic and explores attempts being made to combat the rising opioid overdose death toll. Important legal developments arising from the marketing and distribution of prescription opioids are overviewed. Specifically, the proliferation of legal actions against firms involved in the epidemic has resulted in the consolidation of claims in a multidistrict litigation (MDA). The difficulty of stemming the epidemic through legal avenues shifts attention to recent attempts by regulators to stem the epidemic. The paper concludes with some pessimistic observations about the difficulties of using “harm reduction” solutions to address substance abuse and addiction problems with deep societal roots.

3-Part Series: Prescription Addiction, Big Pharma and the Opioid Epidemic

With the U.S. in the grips of an opioid crisis that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, the role of pharmaceutical manufacturers that made tens of billions of dollars selling the deadly painkillers is coming into focus as litigation and investigations mount.

From as far back as 1911 until the late 1990s, the use of opioids, or narcotics, was limited to very narrow circumstances, such as post-surgical pain and end-of-life care. That’s because the medical establishment and regulators were keenly aware of the addictive quality of the drugs and the dangers they posed if misused.

But that all changed when a school of thought started to take over in medicine beginning in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Treating pain became a preeminent priority. Addiction was less of a concern and pain was dubbed the “5th vital sign.”

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