Local governments pressing lawsuits to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid epidemic told a judge that taking the strongest version of Purdue Pharma Inc.’s Oxycontin painkiller off the market would have immediate
results in addressing the crisis, according to people at the meeting.
Purdue’s 80-milligram version of Oxycontin is snorted by thousands of abusers, so removing it would be a good first step, experts for cities and counties and state attorneys general told U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, according to three people in
attendance at the Wednesday meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door summit.
Polster is overseeing more than 200 suits filed by U.S. cities and counties seeking to recoup the costs of dealing with opioid addictions and overdoses in a Big Tobacco-style accord of 1998. The judge has said he wants a deal that goes further than
money to also address business practices and the roots of the crisis.
Robert Josephson, a spokesman for privately owned Purdue, declined to comment on the recommendation that the drugmaker do away with the strongest version of Oxycontin. It’s the company’s biggest-selling drug, though sales have slid in recent years.
The painkiller generated $1.8 billion in 2017, down from $2.8 billion five years earlier, according to data compiled by Symphony Health Solutions.
At the meeting in Cleveland, representatives for each side made presentations to the judge. Addiction experts spoke for the municipalities along with plaintiffs lawyers, some of whom were involved in the $246 billion tobacco settlement. Drugmakers
including Purdue spoke as well, noting that there are about 100 companies that manufacture opioid-based painkillers but only the seven largest are named in the government suits, the people said. The judge asked questions as the parties floated various
ideas, they said.
In addition to smaller opioid makers, there are about 10 smaller drug distributors that haven’t been named in the suits. Those smaller companies play a significant role in the distribution of these painkillers, Cardinal Health Inc.’s lawyer F. Lane
Heard III told the judge, according to the people.
Having more defendants in the case might mean more contributors to any settlement fund.
Heard declined to comment on the meeting and directed questions to Cardinal Health. Ellen Barry, a company spokeswoman, also declined to comment.
States and local governments have sued opioid makers, such as Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and Endo International Plc for understating the risks of prescription opioids, overstating the painkillers’ benefits and violating federal law through their
aggressive marketing campaigns.
Polster heard presentations from state attorneys general including Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Alabama’s Steve Marshall, Tennessee’s Herbert Slatery and Kentucky’s Andy Beshear about how opioid addictions and deaths are ravaging their states, according to the people attending the summit.
DeWine spoke to reporters after the meeting Wednesday. He refused to say how much money he’s seeking but pointed to an Ohio State University study that found opioids are costing his state as much as $8 billion a year. Representatives for Marshall,
Slatery and Beshear didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Polster hasn’t yet scheduled another conference in the case.
The case is In Re: National Prescription Opioid Litigation, MDL NO. 2804, Before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (St. Louis).