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Settlement of opioid lawsuits may be on the horizon, NY attorney general says

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Discussions are underway regarding a possible settlement of the lawsuit filed by New York State Attorney General Letitia James in the opioid crisis, the attorney general said today in White Plains.

James appeared at the annual Westchester Government Relations Legislative Breakfast that was presented by the UJA-Federation of New York in Westchester and the Westchester Jewish Council. The event was held at Temple Israel Center.

About three dozen states have filed lawsuits alleging that pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers have profited from the opioid crisis, which in 2017 resulted in about 49,000 deaths in the U.S., according to government statistics. James’ office reported that the number of opioid deaths in New York during 2017 was 3,200.

“We are beginning to engage in discussions with the individuals who are responsible for this crisis,” James said in an interview with the Business Journal. She said that attorneys general from across the nation were planning to meet the first week in June to discuss the possibility of settlement.

“In the event that we do settle this litigation, the purpose of settling is to establish a fund to address prevention, diversion, treatment and programs that currently exist all throughout the state, providing them with resources.”

OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma recently reached a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma, thus avoiding trial of a lawsuit that state had filed.

The New York lawsuit was recently amended to name: Purdue Pharma and its affiliates; members of the Sackler Family, Purdue’s owner, and the trusts they control; Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates, including parent company Johnson & Johnson; Mallinckrodt LLC and its affiliates; Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates; and Allergan Finance, LLC and its affiliates. The distributors named in New York’s lawsuit are: McKesson Corporation; Cardinal Health Inc.; Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation; and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.

opiod new york settlement
Letitia James. Photo by Peter Katz

James told the Business Journal that the negotiations are taking place on a multistate level.

“Nineteen individuals die every day in New York state and it is critically important that attorneys general all across this nation, as we band together, seek some sort of recourse for those families that are struggling and those individuals that are suffering each and every day,” she said.

The complaint alleges that New York has been especially hard hit by the opioid crisis because of the fraud, willful misconduct and gross negligence of the distributors who buy bulk quantities of the controlled substances and then sell them to pharmacies and other licensed dispensers.
The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers and distributors falsely represented that they had complied with state requirements regarding distribution of the drugs when they applied for state licenses.

James said that the opioid crisis has been affecting all 62 counties in New York.

“It knows no race, no ethnicity. It knows no economic category. It’s affecting all of us as New Yorkers, and so those individuals who are responsible for this need to be held accountable,” she told the Business Journal.

“We found that pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors engaged in years of deceptive marketing about the risks of opioids and failed to exercise their basic duty to report suspicious behavior, leading to the crisis we are living with today.”

James said, “There was no monitoring and no accountability with respect to the diversion of opioids into the general market and so it’s really critically important that we provide some recourse to individuals who are struggling and we prevent it from spreading even further in or out of state.”

James said that just because her office has pulled no punches when it comes to filing lawsuits against big pharma, examining practices of various Trump entities or taking other high-profile actions, her office holds the business sector in high regard.

“We recognize that small businesses are the anchor of our economy. All that we say and all that we ask – the Office of Attorney General is the people’s attorney – we ask all businesses not to engage in any illegal or predatory or deceptive business practices that harm New Yorkers or consumers.”

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