Oct. 21, 2019
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 opioids 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, Mallinckrodt, Teva, Janssen, Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walgreens and other drug manufacturers and distributors are facing civil actions filed by more than 2,500 jurisdictions 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®.
Motley Rice represents dozens of jurisdictions, including states, cities, towns, counties and townships in suits against opioid manufacturers and/or distributors.
Opioid Litigation Experience and Public Client Practice
Motley Rice co-founder Joe Rice serves as co-lead counsel and a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee for the National Prescription Opiate Multidistrict Litigation, coordinated in the Northern District of Ohio. Also holding leadership positions in the MDL are Motley Rice attorneys Linda Singer, co-chair of the Manufacturer/Marketing Committee and Lou Bograd, co-chair of the Law & Briefing Committee.
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 enter discovery.
Additionally, Joe Rice serves on the Coordinating Committee as Co-Lead Counsel in the Pennsylvania Coordinated Cases in County of Delaware v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al.
ARCOS Database Made Public
In response to a push from news outlets including The Washington Post, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in July 2019 to make public thousands of previously sealed documents collected prior to Dec. 31, 2012 that detailed the circulation of opioids from the point of manufacturing through distribution. The documents which were maintained by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency as part of its Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) database. The Washington Post has done extensive reporting on the documents, including creating searchable databases available to the public.
Opioid MDL Negotiating Class
Led by Motley Rice and other members of the MDL’s PEC, plaintiff jurisdictions successfully petitioned the Court in June 2019 to establish a Negotiating Class for the litigation, which was approved by U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster and certified in September 2019. A novel approach, the Negotiating Class was created for the sole purpose of negotiating and potentially settling with defendant companies that are engaged in the nationwide manufacturing, sale or distribution of opioids. The Class, described by Polster as a “powerful, creative and helpful” option, unified cities and counties into a single negotiating entity to maximize their collective bargaining power, expediting the opioid litigation by easing settlement talks with defendants.
Opioid Epidemic Impact
The number of opioid overdose deaths recorded in the U.S. was six times higher in 2017 than 1999, 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 opioids 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.
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 and 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.