Opioid Litigation

Each day, 175 Americans tragically lose their lives to opioid overdoses and thousands more struggle with opioid dependency. The growing epidemic crosses virtually all demographics, and with more than half a million related deaths recorded in the U.S. between 2000 and 2015, the crisis has officially been declared a public health emergency.

Jan. 5, 2018


U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster appointed Motley Rice co-founder Joe Rice as co-lead counsel in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation coordinated in the Northern District of Ohio. Read more about the appointment.

Opioids are prescription narcotics possessing properties similar to opium and heroin. While opioids can ease pain, they also can create an addictive euphoric high in users.

With evidence that the pharmaceutical industry played a key role in causing the opioid epidemic through its alleged deceptive marketing of highly addictive prescription painkillers to treat common chronic pain conditions, state attorneys general, local governments and other public entities nationwide have championed investigations and litigation to seek accountability and remedies. The U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee also conducted its own investigation and released a report in February 2018 that stated it had found evidence suggesting the pharmaceutical industry paid millions of dollars to several third party patient advocacy groups in order to encourage “the advancement of opioids-friendly messaging.”

Purdue Pharma, Endo, Janssen and other drug manufacturers are facing dozens of civil actions currently pending in state and federal courts. The defendants in many suits manufacture market and sell prescription opioid pain medications, including brand-name drugs: OxyContin; Hysingla ER; Nucynta, Actiq; Opana/Opana ER; Percodan; and Percocet.

Opioid Litigation Experience and Public Client Practice

Led by member attorney Linda Singer, a former Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Motley Rice is lead counsel for the first jurisdictions to file complaints in the most recent wave of litigation against pharmaceutical companies regarding the opioid crisis – the City of Chicago and Santa Clara County. Both jurisdictions filed litigation in 2014 against five pharmaceutical companies, alleging deceptive marketing that misled the public about the drugs’ highly addictive properties.

The Chicago suit was the first opioid-related case to survive motions to dismiss, as well as the only such case to enter discovery.

In May 2017, Santa Clara County reached a $1.6 million settlement with Cephalon, Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd. (collectively, “Teva”) over alleged, deceptive marketing of prescription opioid painkillers for chronic pain. The settlement funds will go toward substance abuse treatment and education in Santa Clara and Orange Counties.

The firm represents 40 jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction is being investigated and litigated according to the relevant laws in that area as well as the defendants’ conduct.

Experience Representing Government Entities

Motley Rice attorneys have and continue to play a leading role in helping state and local governments combat the opioid crisis through comprehensive research and litigation. Our attorneys are committed to public health and have experience advancing consumer health & safety initiatives. In the 1990’s Motley Rice co-founders Ron Motley (1944-2013) and Joe Rice represented more than two dozen state attorneys general and other public entities in litigation against Big Tobacco. The litigation resulted in the $246 billion Master Settlement Agreement, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history. The resolution also included reimbursement to the states for publicly funded health care costs and advertising and sponsorship restrictions on the tobacco companies

Opioid Epidemic Impact

The number of opioid overdose deaths recorded in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999, with prescription painkillers being the driving force behind the uptick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similar to the rise in overdoses, the amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies and medical practitioners, including drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, also nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, the CDC found. Despite the increase in readily available drugs, the amount of pain recorded by Americans has reportedly remained consistent.

When opioid painkillers are hard to come by, those who suffer from opioid dependency often turn to heroin as a comparable alternative. As a result, the increase in opioid dependency in the U.S. has also triggered an increase in heroin addiction, with three out of four new heroin users reporting using prescription opioids prior to heroin, according to the CDC.

Opioids accounted for more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, with the hardest hit states being West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio and Rhode Island, the CDC reports. On Oct. 26, 2017, the U.S. declared the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency, allowing for the allocation of resources and services to combat the epidemic.