Opioid Lawsuit | Background, Status, Impact & More


The opioid lawsuit’s main goal is to prove that the unethical practices of pharmaceutical companies led to the opioid crisis and all the pain and suffering that followed.

Though Purdue Pharma is widely seen as the main culprit in the opioid epidemic due to its drug OxyContin, there are many other companies mentioned in the lawsuit that also face legal consequences.

This article breaks down the opioid lawsuit and helps you learn if you can also file a claim against these companies.

Opioid Lawsuit Timeline

  • 1995: The FDA approves OxyContin as the first opioid that allowed patients to dose every 12 hours through its proprietary slow-release system.
  • 1996: Purdue Pharma unleashes an aggressive marketing campaign to promote OxyContin as a long-lasting and less addictive opioid to doctors.
  • 1997–2002: Other opioid manufacturers enter the market opened by Purdue Pharma. During these years, it was shown that companies had knowledge of how addictive their prescription opioids were and were informed of the growing addiction rates, yet chose to continue promoting them. Purdue alone made billions in sales.
  • 2002: Federal prosecutors from the Justice Department begin an investigation into the practices of Purdue Pharma, which will span over four years.
  • 2006: Purdue reaches an agreement with federal prosecutors and pays a fine of $635.5 million.
  • 2007: Kentucky officials file legal claims against Purdue because of the increasing drug abuse rates in Appalachia.
  • 2007: An affiliate of Purdue Pharma, along with three executives, plead guilty to misbranding OxyContin by claiming it was less addictive. They paid a fine totaling $600 million.
  • 2014: The Office of the Attorney General in New York began investigating the company’s anti-abuse program.
  • 2017: City officials in Everett, Washington, sue Purdue and ask for reimbursements for all the costs the city endured because of the opioid epidemic.
  • 2018: Puerto Rico and 16 other US states file lawsuits against Purdue Pharma. The Massachusetts Attorney General informs the Sackler family as well as other Purdue members about her intention to file a 300-page lawsuit against them for misinforming doctors about the true risks of OxyContin.
  • 2019: Over 40 US states now have lawsuits against Purdue.
  • 2020: The US Department of Justice sues CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart for not properly screening OxyContin before agreeing to sell it.

Why Was a Lawsuit Filed?

People, attorneys general, and state and local governments across the country have all filed suits against opioid manufacturers and distributors for different reasons.

For local governments, it’s a way to cover the costs that the opinion epidemic has led to, from health costs to increased criminal activity and the loss of lives. Those battling opioid addiction and their families are suing the companies for the damages caused by the addiction or the loss of a loved one.

At their core, all these lawsuits argue that the practices of companies and opioid distributors have directly led to the opioid crisis.

Who Are the Plaintiffs?

With more than 2,000 different lawsuits filed, a judicial panel decided to consolidate all motions under the National Prescription Opioid Litigation, meaning the entire lawsuit unfolds in front of one federal judge.

The suit is now being presented in the Northern District of Ohio in front of Judge Dan Polster, who has previous experience overseeing consolidated cases. The plaintiffs include over 2,500 individuals and state and local governments.

Who Are the Defendants?

Though Purdue Pharma has been the main defendant in most opioid lawsuits filed, there are other parties involved:

  • Opioid Manufacturers: Companies like Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals have lawsuits filed against them.
  • Opioid Distributors: Health care providers such as doctors or clinics, as well as three major pharmaceutical distributors (Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen), are also named in many of the suits.
  • Pharmacies: CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens are the primary drug store names in the lawsuits.

Many of the lawsuits are filed against the Sackler family directly and argue its members are responsible for the opioid crisis and therefore should pay victim compensation.

The suits filed against Purdue Pharma also include many of its subsidiaries, such as Rhodes Pharmaceuticals and Imbrium.

Settlements Awarded So Far

Several settlement agreements have already been reached:

  • Walgreens paid the state of Florida $683 million
  • Cardinal Health, Johnson & Johnson, and other distributors settled with a group of attorneys general and agreed to pay $26 billion in total
  • Teva paid around $25 billion to settle suits with government entities and contribute to opioid addiction resources
  • Drug stores settled with attorneys general and paid $13.8 billion
  • Purdue settled with over 2,000 states and agreed to pay $12 billion, with around $4.5 billion coming directly from the Sackler family.

Individual victims are also entitled to a portion of the settlements, but most of the funds will go to the states. For example, a claim for opioid addiction or use may be eligible for a payout between $3,500 and $30,000, while family members filing wrongful death claims can be entitled to $26,000 to $40,000 in compensation.

In many cases, the awarded payout covers only a fraction of the costs people endured because of their opioid addiction.

Are New Opioid Lawsuits Still Being Filed?

In 2019, Purdue filed for bankruptcy, which means the OxyContin manufacturer is protected against any future lawsuits, while the Sackler family was also granted immunity from civil suits, meaning that currently, they cannot be sued for their role in the opioid epidemic.

However, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge coming from President Biden’s administration, which argues that Purdue and its owners are abusing the Chapter 1 bankruptcy laws to avoid paying damages. The oral arguments are scheduled for December 2023, and if successful, Purdue and the Sackler families may be once again facing new lawsuits.

But there are other parties involved in the prescription opioid crisis that may still be sued for their roles in addiction and opioid overdose deaths.

Filing a Prescription Opioid Lawsuit: Steps to Follow

Filing a lawsuit may help you get the funds to treat an opioid use disorder or alleviate some of the cost that the drugs have put on you or your family.

These cases will fall under product liability, which can be subject to differing statutes of limitations depending on where you live.

Here are the main steps to take if you want to file a lawsuit against opioid drugs manufacturers or other relevant parties:

1. Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer

Consider discussing your case with a personal injury lawyer to help you through the process and give you more information about your settlement chances.

For instance, if your opioid treatment involves OxyContin, a lawyer will likely not take on your case since the company and owners are currently protected by bankruptcy laws. But you may file a suit against other parties involved, such as the pharmacies or another opioid manufacturer, depending on your treatment.

2. Document Your Injuries

You will need to prove that prescription opioids hurt your life, and to what extent. A personal injury lawyer can help you gather evidence, which can include:

  • Medical files
  • Treatment records
  • Witness testimonies, etc.

3. Negotiate a Settlement

Your lawyer will first try to negotiate a settlement with the defendant, which will likely lead to a long period of back-and-forth discussions.

During these meetings, your lawyer will argue the case on your behalf and try to win a settlement. The defendant will argue their case as a way to reduce the award.

If the parties can’t reach an agreement, then the process moves on to the next stage.

4. File a Lawsuit

The lawyer will then file a claim in civil court and begin to prepare your case to present it in front of a judge. At this stage, the other party has the right to get the evidence from your case, which can include medical records and even statements from you.

5. Go to Trial

In a pre-trial hearing, the judge will first try to determine if a settlement is still possible between the parties. If not, the case will be argued in front of a jury.

These cases can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to argue, depending on their complexity and the number of witnesses asked to testify. Once all parties have had their say, the matter is transferred to the jury, which will likely need additional time to decide on a verdict.

Final Thoughts

The opioid lawsuit still has a long road ahead before any final agreements are reached. Until then, those affected by the epidemic are left to bear the cost of its consequences alone.


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