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Monday, November 11, 2019

Purdue Pharma reportedly offers deal to settle opioid MDL claims; Judge recently OK'd plaintiffs experts to testify


By John Breslin | Aug 29, 2019


CLEVELAND (Legal Newsline) – Purdue Pharma, the maker of the pain drug OxyContin, has reportedly offered a settlement in a lawsuit filed by more than 1,500 counties and municipalities over claims that it helped ignite the opioid crisis that has left hundreds of thousands dead over two decades.

Multiple news outlets reported that the company has reached a deal, which it is said includes $3 billion from the personal fortune of the Sackler family, members of which founded the firm. Reports say the settlement offer is between $10 billion and $12 billion.

Nearly 2,000 lawsuits are consolidated in federal court in Cleveland and many other cases are pending in state courts

Attorneys general in most states have filed separate suits against companies. Approximately 330 opioid-related cases are pending in lower courts in some 45 states, according to Stat News, the health news site. 

Reports of the deal in Ohio come in the wake of an approximate $572 million award against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in a case in Oklahoma. Other companies are also reported to be edging towards settlement. In the Oklahoma case, Purdue Pharma paid a $270 million settlement, of which most went to private lawyers representing the state and a research project at Oklahoma State University - the alma mater of state Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Apart from Purdue Pharma, others facing charges in the MDL include Allergan, Teva Pharmaceutical, J&J, McKesson and Cardinal Health.

The companies are alleged to have fomented a "public nuisance" through deceptive marketing practices. They are alleged to have sold and distributed the drugs while knowing of their highly addictive nature.

Judge Dan Polster of the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio, who is presiding over the litigation, most recently dismissed two defense motions asking that the court exclude the testimonies of several experts due to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs.

A bellwether trial involving two Ohio counties, Cuyahoga and Summit, is due to begin Monday, Oct. 21.

In one motion filed Aug. 26, the defendants argued that the expert testimony of Katherine Keyes, an epidemiologist, addiction specialist Anna Lembke and health economist Jonathan Gruber be excluded. They will testify in relation to the "gateway hypothesis.”

Polster, in his order dismissing the motion, said the defendants "characterize (or mischaracterize)" the expert testimony as "positing that 'the entire problem of illicit heroin and fentanyl use today was somehow ‘caused’ by the last quarter century of trained health care providers prescribing legal opioid medicines.'"

"Each of the experts is well-qualified to testify, and defendants do not challenge their qualifications," Polster wrote in his order.

The defendants also asked that the court exclude the testimony of five other experts who are due to testify in relation to abatement costs and efforts. That motion was also filed Aug. 26.

"Defendants do not assert any of the challenged experts are unqualified to provide opinions on methods or costs to abate the opioid crisis in Cuyahoga and Summit counties," Polster wrote, adding that they argue the experts are "irrelevant and/or unreliable."

"The court has reviewed the qualifications of the challenged experts and finds them qualified to testify on the topics regarding which they have opined," Polster found.

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