The United States of America has declared war on the opioid epidemic, and the federal government is bringing its vast resources to bear on this crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified over 72,000 deaths in 2020 alone due to opioid overdoses.
As federal and state attorney’s general continue to file lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, physicians, and pharmacies responsible for the opioid epidemic, one lawyer has become an expert in this space.
Attorney Ken Julian of Manatt says the litigation revolving around opioids has expanded to hundreds of cases across the country.
The litigation involves many different legal theories, including fraud, breach of warranty, and violations under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The lawsuits allege that drug companies misled prescribers about the amount of opioids needed for chronic pain management by overstating benefits and understating risks associated with opioids.
Many of the lawsuits allege drug companies led prescribers to believe it was safe to prescribe large amounts of opioids for chronic pain relief and that doing so would not lead to addiction. The cases also allege that drug companies engaged in deceptive marketing by using front organizations to promote the use of opioid medications for unapproved conditions such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain.
“Pharmaceutical companies are finding themselves in the crosshairs of the federal government,” said Julian, a partner in Manatt’s Litigation Department. The latter helps health care companies understand and comply with legal and regulatory issues. “The lawsuits allege that pharmaceutical companies contributed to the opioid epidemic by engaging in a variety of deceptive marketing practices designed to increase profits at the expense of public safety.”
One of the most high-profile cases alleges that Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and other opioids, misled doctors and patients about the dangers of their medications. As a result, dozens of states and localities have sued Purdue, seeking to hold the companies accountable for their role in creating a public health crisis. “The litigation is complex and requires expertise across many areas of law,” Julian said. “We are working closely with clients to help them understand the legal issues involved in these cases.”
“Businesses can confront opioid litigation in many ways,” Julian added. “First, companies should make sure they are complying with all federal and state laws governing opioids, including proper distribution of controlled substances, data collection, and reporting requirements.”
Finally, companies should implement and enforce a strong compliance program that includes training to ensure employees understand and follow all laws and regulations. “The tides are turning quickly,” Julian said. “It’s critical for companies to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to opioid litigation.”
Julian also believes that the current wave of litigation is just the beginning of a series of lawsuits that will target opioid manufacturers, distributors, and prescribers.
“While some may say the worst has passed in the battle against opioids, I believe we have just begun to see what this crisis will bring,” Julian said. “There’s a long road ahead for those who manufacture and distribute opioids as well as those who prescribe them.”