According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio had the second-highest rate of fatal opioid overdoses in the country in 2017. West Virginia led the nation in per capita opioid deaths. That’s part of the reason why Ohio is central to the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, where thousands of cases against opioid manufacturers have been consolidated.
In September, an Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals was deceptive when it marketed two opioid medications, Duragesic and Nucynta. This, he said, “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.” In legal terms, Janssen’s actions created a public nuisance, and it was ordered to pay $572 million.
The Oklahoma case was the first lawsuit brought against an opioid manufacturer to come to trial. Therefore, it was considered a bellwether for the thousands of other lawsuits, which have been filed mostly by states, counties and municipalities.
The outcome in the Oklahoma case sent other opioid manufacturers scrambling for settlements. It apparently also motivated Johnson & Johnson to settle other cases.
Pressure to settle mounts as October trial date approaches
This Ohio lawsuit is separate from the National Prescription Opiate Litigation and is the first federal case to be brought to trial against the opioid manufacturers.
In part, it again involves Duragesic and Nucynta, which were sold by J&J’s subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals. J&J argues that its drugs were “responsibly marketed” and that they “accounted for less than one percent of the total opioid prescriptions in the United States.”
However, saying that it needed to “avoid the resource demands and uncertainty of a trial,” J&J recently announced that it has reached a tentative settlement with two Ohio counties. The deal still has to be approved by a federal judge, but the proposal stipulates that J&J makes “no admission of liability.”
According to NPR, J&J has agreed to pay Cuyahoga and Summit counties a total of $10 million, along with $5 million to reimburse them for their legal fees. In addition, J&J would contribute $5.4 million to programs fighting opioid addiction in the two counties. If the settlement is not approved, the claims are scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 21.
Four other opioid manufacturers have succeeded in settling out of court in the Ohio case. However, several other manufacturers remain defendants in the lawsuit:
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.
- McKesson Corp.
- Cardinal Health
- Henry Schein, Inc.
- Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.
The outcome of the trial could send a strong message, whether it finds that the opioid manufacturers played a role in the opioid crisis or not. We will keep you up to date on the outcome.