“I did a little math,” said Judge Polster, according to the official transcript of the hearing. “Since we're losing more than 50,000 of our citizens every year (deaths due to opioids), about 150 Americans are going to die today, just today, while we're meeting.”
The National Prescription Opiate Ligation MDL is underway and the Judge in the case says he thinks Americans are more interested in finding solutions to the nation’s opioid epidemic than assigning blame. Big opioid drug manufacturers and distributors are on the hot seat here but if Judge Dan Polster gets his way this MDL will focus on answers as much, or perhaps even more than liability.
“In my humble opinion, everyone shares some of the responsibility, and no one has done enough to abate it. That includes the manufacturers, the distributors, the pharmacies, the doctors, the federal government and state government, local governments, hospitals, third-party payors, and individuals,” he said.
“The federal court is probably the least likely branch of government to try and tackle this, but candidly, the other branches of government, federal and state, have punted,” Judge Polster told the courtroom.
“It was quite amazing to hear the judge talk like this. Judge Polster, I believe, was highlighting the need to find solutions through this litigation,” says attorney Sarah Burns, assistant to co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs Paul J. Hanly, from the firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy in New York.
“What I'm interested in doing is not just moving money around,” the Judge said. “What we've got to do is dramatically reduce the number of the pills that are out there and make sure that the pills that are out there are being used properly,” he told the lawyers assembled for the hearing.
Close to 200 states, counties, municipalities from across the US have filed lawsuits against the country’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors that are now consolidated in a federal MDL that will play out before Judge Polster in his courtroom in United States District Court in the Northern District of Ohio.
“Judge Polster also pointed out that for two years in a row the average life expectancy in the US has dropped and it’s due to opioids,” says Burns. “That’s striking.”
The lawsuits, filed across the country against the manufacturers and distributors of the opioid drugs, allege these highly addictive prescription drugs are a plague on communities, addicting and killing Americans in all social and economic classes in record numbers, destroying families and inflicting billions of dollars extra healthcare, policing and social service costs on state and local governments.
The plaintiffs are looking for financial compensation for the cities and towns to deal with these problems.
The defendants in the MDL include big opioid manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Allergen, Johnson & Johnson and distributors Cardinal Health and McKesson.
“I don’t want to put words in the Judge’s mouth,” says Burns. “But he’s saying he is interested in a change of behavior here, more funding for addiction treatment and more money for education through this process.”
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And the Judge is in a hurry.
“My objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018,” Judge Polster said.
Many of the dozens of lawyers involved in this MDL are deeply committed to tackling America’s opioid crisis. “A lot of these lawyers have met directly with the county officials and state officials who are battling this opioid epidemic in their communities. They know the issues very well,” said Burns. “This is not going to be an easy road though.”