CLEVELAND (CN) – A federal judge in Ohio refused Wednesday to dismiss racketeering claims against Purdue Pharma and other drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies in a massive collection of cases blaming them for the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The claims of hundreds of cities and counties against opioid makers including Purdue and Johnson & Johnson have been consolidated in Cleveland federal court. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is overseeing the case.
Polster wrote in a 39-page ruling that it “remains to be seen” whether the cities and counties can prove that the defendants are responsible for the nationwide crisis. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs should be given the opportunity to test their claims, he wrote.
“It is accurate to describe the opioid epidemic as a man-made plague, twenty years in the making. The pain, death, and heartache it has wrought cannot be overstated,” Polster wrote.
The judge continued, “Plaintiffs allege that defendants have contributed to the addiction of millions of Americans to these prescription opioids and to the foreseeable result that many of those addicted would turn to street drugs. While these allegations do not fit neatly into the legal theories chosen by Plaintiffs, they fit nevertheless.”
The plaintiffs’ lead attorneys Paul Farrell, Paul Hanly and Joseph Rice foresee a day of reckoning for the drug makers, distributors and pharmacies.
“In 2019, we expect opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies will finally be held accountable for the public crisis they wrought when they fraudulently marketed and over-distributed addictive and dangerous opioids,” they said in a joint statement.
Purdue did not respond to requests for comment.
A Johnson & Johnson spokesman deferred comment to a Janssen Pharmaceuticals spokesman. Janssen said in an emailed statement that it will continue to fight the litigation and that its marketing was “appropriate and responsible.”
“The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated,” the company said.
The cities and counties accuse the defendants of laying the foundation for today’s epidemic by encouraging doctors and pharmacies to overprescribe opioids and exaggerating how safe they were to use. Deceptive marketing practices and inaction led millions of Americans on a path to addiction and fed a black market for opioid drugs, the cities and counties claim.
They want to claw back the billions they say they have lost from tackling the public health crisis.
The defendants asked the judge to dismiss the racketeering claims brought by the cities and counties The drug makers, distributors and pharmacies had claimed they should not be held liable for those claims and that the cities and counties lacked legal standing to move forward.
Polster rejected the arguments and ordered the defendants to file court papers answering the plaintiffs’ second amended complaint by Jan. 15.
Trial in the case is set for September 2019.
Other defendants include opioid distributors McKesson and Cardinal Health.