A California judge may soon provide a clearer picture of what it will cost drug makers including
The first trial against opioid companies in almost two years started Monday in Santa Ana, where four California municipalities are demanding at least $50 billion for what they claim was the illegal marketing of pain pills. The case, which will be decided without a jury and tried virtually, may be a road map for thousands of similar claims pending against drug makers, distributors and pharmacies.
While it’s unlikely the city of Oakland and the counties of Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Orange will get anything close to $50 billion, the California trial “ratchets up settlement pressure on Teva and J&J,” which have already made proposals to end all the cases against them, said
“This case could wind up being a real worst-case scenario for some of these companies,” said Richard Ausness, a
More than 400,000 Americans have died from opioids over the past 20 years, sparking lawsuits by state and local governments across the country seeking compensation for spending on police and drug treatment. While opioid companies are seeking global settlements that wipe out all their liability, some cases are moving forward to trials, including the one before Orange County Superior Court Judge
While the companies will try to shift blame for the opioid crisis onto the people who got addicted, it was the deceptive marketing campaigns that led to more prescriptions and increased dependence and overdoses, Fitzpatrick said.
The California trial involves J&J, Teva,
J&J, which has stopped selling opioid-based pain medications in the U.S., appropriately marketed the drugs and “will challenge plaintiffs’ unverified claims at trial, which do not contain any proof of causation,” spokesman Jake Sargent said in an emailed statement.
“We plan to defend ourselves vigorously against these claims,” Endo spokeswoman
An AbbVie spokesperson declined to comment.
‘Didn’t Cause Crisis’
Prescriptions for Teva’s Actiq and Fentora pain medicines constituted less than 1% of opioid prescriptions written over 20 years in the four California jurisdictions, the company’s lawyer,
J&J and Teva have made settlement offers that could have short-circuited their participation in the California trial had they been finalized in time.
In 2019, J&J proposed paying $5 billion, part of a combined $26 billion that included contributions from three drug distributors. No final agreement has been reached on that offer, which a federal judge overseeing opioid litigation called a benchmark for future settlements. Teva offered what it says is $23 billion of opioid-treatment medications, a valuation disputed by some states, cities and counties.
The last opioid trial occurred in 2019, when an Oklahoma judge ordered J&J to pay $465 million for creating a public nuisance by duping doctors in that state to overprescribe opioid-based medications. The ruling is on appeal. Teva -- named as a defendant in the Oklahoma case -- agreed to pay $85 million to settle the state’s claims.
“The companies’ prospects for a win here are worse than they were in Oklahoma” because California’s public-nuisance law is even broader, said Albert Lin, a University of California law professor.
Los Angeles County -- the largest U.S. county in terms of population -- wants at least $32.5 billion to beef up its policing and treatment budges in the wake of the opioid crisis. Santa Clara and Orange counties are demanding at least $16 billion while Oakland officials are their city deserves at least $2 billion.
Santa Clara v. Purdue Pharma LP, No. 30--2014-00725287, Superior Court for Orange County, California (Santa Ana)
(Updates with statements at trial by company attorneys.)
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