Pharmacies will have there time in court next.
Added to the list of defendants to stand trial for their role in the opioid epidemic is some of the nation’s major pharmacy chains, including Rite Aid, Walgreens, CVS, Discount Drug Mart, and HBC. U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster, who is presiding over the consolidated litigation in Cleveland, Ohio, scheduled the trial for late 2020. Specifically, the pharmacy chains are slated for next October. Polster also submitted a recommendation that the cases be moved to Chicago, San Francisco, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
Polster indicated he would preside over a case that involves two Ohio counties, Summit and Cuyahoga, against some of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains. Drug manufacturers and distributors have already settled or been ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars. The first federal trial against six defendants ended in an 11th-hour settlement last month, but Walgreens opted not to participate.
The consolidated litigation in Cleveland is now referred to as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation. Those lawsuits brought about by cities, states, counties, and others, seek payments the alleged roles of numerous companies in the opioid crisis. They were ultimately consolidated beginning in 2017 by a panel of federal judges. Currently, there are roughly 2,500 suits still open.
“What the court has learned,” Polster wrote in one of two orders he issued recently, “is that if it proceeds with the bellwether trial process as it has so far, it will simply take too long to reach each category of plaintiff and defendant, much less each individual plaintiff and defendant. Meanwhile, the opioid crisis shows no sign of ending.” It continues to take the lives of thousands with the death toll in the hundred-thousands.
Of those cases Polster is recommending go elsewhere, a lawsuit filed by the city of Chicago against Purdue Pharma and other drug manufacturers would go back to federal court in Illinois; a case filed by the Cherokee Nation against multiple drug companies would go to federal court in Oklahoma; and a case filed by the city and county of San Francisco would head back to federal court in California. Polster offered to handle another seven cases that target multiple issues within the industry. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation must approve his plan for it to proceed.
Roughly half of the state attorneys general are currently negotiating a settlement that would provide $48 billion in cash and anti-addiction medication from companies over 18 years. But, most recently, officials for ten cities and counties sent a letter to the three major drug distributors saying they would not support this measure. “Despite being on the front lines of the opioid epidemic,” the officials wrote, “we were not consulted about this settlement, were not involved in negotiating its terms and were not apprised of its details.” Los Angeles, New York, and Houston were among some of the largest cities to sign the letter. Given the magnitude of the cities that are pushing back, it looks like there will be more trials to come.