Taking Legal Action Against Opioids

Ohio takes the lead on claims against drug producers and distributors

Approximately 115 Americans die each day from opioid-related overdose. Often, the actual cause of death is not known at the time, and not always documented after the fact—meaning opioid-related deaths may be undercounted by as much as 25 to 30 percent.

States have begun pursuing redress against drug companies for their role in creating and perpetuating this crisis. To date, 41 states have joined in multidistrict litigation (MDL) against manufacturers and distributors of oxycodone, hydrocodone and related opioid drugs, which were, for years, promoted for as safe and non-addictive. In addition, hundreds of cities and counties have brought suits against Big Pharma, hoping to recoup some of the expenses of fighting and responding to the epidemic.

Cleveland personal injury attorney Frank Gallucci represents counties, cities and companies in Ohio, as well as about 100 communities throughout the country, in the massive legal action. “The suit is against manufacturers and distributors alike, essentially, for acting in concert to create this industry, and the belief that this is safe for long-term use and not addictive,” he explains. “There’s also a few doctors named in the suit who were involved in credentialing companies and teaching physicians that this was proper behavior.”

Ohio has suffered an especially high toll from the scourge. “Depending on who you talk to, Ohio is either the hardest or second hardest hit state in the country,” says Gallucci. “From 2000 to 2010, especially in southern Ohio, you had pain centers that were just popping up left and right, and there were literally lines out the door before they would open for business. There was a crackdown on these ‘pill mills,’ and what you saw was people that were heavily addicted at that point.”

Gallucci has observed that most opioid addiction has stemmed from legally prescribed use. “A lot of what we see is, for example, a young person who has a sports-related injury, gets hooked, and then next thing you know, they can’t get off it and they’re turning to diverted or illegal drugs. I don’t talk to too many people in Ohio who don’t have a personal story connected to this. It’s every walk of life, every socioeconomic group.”

In the complaint against the pharmaceutical companies and distributors, numerous bases of liability are alleged—including public nuisance, deceptive trade practices, fraud, unjust enrichment, Ohio product liability, negligence, negligent marketing, negligence per se, and the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act. While the complaint itself is public information, many of the details of the suit are subject to a gag order, applicable to Gallucci and all lawyers involved in the case.

Because of the scope of the matter, and the need to determine a basis on which to assess likely outcomes, Gallucci speculates that the next phase will be identifying bellwethers. “A bellwether is where the court will allow a couple cases to go to trial that should give the rest of the country an idea what cases should look like on outcome,” he says. “I would think that by the end of 2019, some of these will be coming up for trial.”

While the MDL series of suits does not represent individual plaintiffs, Gallucci recommends that those with potential individual claims have their case assessed by an experienced personal injury attorney. “Each case is unique in its own right,” he says. “Some are cases to bring right now, some are let’s wait and see. They should talk to someone for that assessment.”

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