U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster, the Ohio federal judge overseeing the multidistrict litigation (MDL) targeting drug manufacturers and distributors for fueling the opioid epidemic, emphasized the urgency in dealing with the litigation and the importance of doing “something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018,” during the first hearing in the MDL.
Addressing a crowded courtroom in the Northern District of Ohio, Judge Polster set a goal of drastically reducing the number of painkillers prescribed in the U.S. – medications that will kill more than 50,000 Americans in the year ahead.
Judge Polster pointed out that the federal court is the “least likely” branch of government to take on the opioid crisis. “But candidly, the other branches of government – federal and state – have punted, so it’s here,” he said.
“We have to make sure that those pills are only when there’s an appropriate diagnosis and that we get some amount of money to government agencies for treatment, because sadly everyday more and more people [become] addicted and they need treatment,” Judge Polster said. “That’s what I’m interested in doing.”
Last month, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled that the growing number of lawsuits filed by local governments against drug companies and distributors for contributing to the national opioid epidemic will be centralized in the Northern District Court of Ohio under Judge Polster. Since then, the MDL has swelled to about 180 lawsuits, and the MDL is expected to grow substantially larger in the months to come as new plaintiffs and defendants are added.
Manufacturers targeted include Purdue Pharma LP, Tea Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan Inc., and Mallinckrodt LLC. Distributors named include Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Corp., and McKesson Corp., as well as units of CVS Health Corp., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Drug manufacturers are accused of overstating the drugs’ benefits while downplaying the risks. Distributors are blamed for failing to monitor and report suspicious drug orders.