The entire pharma industry in the United States is put on trial from Monday in a federal court over cases of claims filed by thousands of American communities alleging that the pharma companies had colluded to conspire and orchestrate the now infamous opioid epidemic in the country.
The case that will be held in Cleveland will be the first such case lined up for hearing in which the claimants want to indict the opioid makers, drug distributors and pharmacy chains of being liable to pay billions of dollars to thousands of counties, cities and Native American tribes that had fallen prey to the opiod crisis that had allegedly killed moré than 400,000 people in the last 20 years or so. The job of the court is to decide on the liability of the manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies.
Anti-racketeering laws, originally created to go fight organised crime, is being used by the plaintiffs in this case. They have also brought in allegations of creation of public nuisance and have claimed that sales were aggressively driven up by manufacturers of narcotic painkillers and had made false claim with full knowledge about the painkillers were less addictive and more effective than they actually were. That led to a huge increase in physicians prescribing the drugs.
The plaintiffs also alleged that legal obligations to restrict delivery and dispensing of the drugs were repeatedly ignored by distributors and pharmacies even in the face of increasing death toll because the companies were making huge money out of the sales.
“The facts will show that opioid makers and distributors conspired to create and benefit from the worst public health crisis in decades,” the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a statement.
Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest manufacturer of generic drugs in the world, and the second-largest pharmacy chain of America, Walgreens, are at the centre of the controversy and the court cases. Also facing trials are three major US drug distributors which includes McKesson and AmerisourceBergen – both the companies are among the top 10 companies in the US in terms of generating revenues.
Two Ohio counties, Cuyahoga and Summit, had brought in the case that went to trial on Monday. If the court finds the companies liable for paying the penalties and compensation, that ruling would be put together with other trials in coming months which will aim to some to a comprehensive settlement to cover the claims made by plaintiff all across the US.
In the last four years alone, the epidemic has cost the US more than $800bn, a new study has found. The costs to the US ranged from loss of earnings by people by those who had either taken ill or died, pressure on the criminal justice system and the additional costs because of enhanced health and social care spending, said the Society of Actuaries.
Talks to come to a out of court settlement had failed recently,
Advocates of plaintiffs not only want a huge settlement fee for the responsible parties but also wants the entire pharma industry to become exposed in the court and therefore the failure of the talks have been welcomed by them.
“We need hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with this crisis,” said Emily Walden, chair of the Fed Up coalition of families hit by the epidemic and doctors who have spoken out against the wide prescribing of opioids. “The settlement talks are not holding these companies accountable for what they’ve done. $50bn is pocket change to them.”
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)