Attorney and physician Shezad Malik says he is monitoring closely the opioid MDL in Cleveland, hopeful money will support neighborhood drug treatment centers.
Dallas, TX"With all these opioid lawsuits filed against big Pharma, manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains, we are hopeful that a treasure trove of discovery will be uncovered to help individuals," says attorney Shezad Malik. "This teacher, this fireman, so many people wouldn't have fallen into the opioid trap if these drugs weren't pushed on them by their doctor or hospital."
The Tobacco Analogy
Malik likens the opioid problem to tobacco, whereby states and attorneys general opened the lid for individuals to litigate. The largest civil-litigation settlement in U.S. history, the "master settlement agreement" in 1998 involved the tobacco industry, 46 states and six other jurisdictions. State attorneys general argued that tobacco companies should take up the burden of paying for the costs of treating smoking-related diseases. The tobacco companies agreed to fund public-health programs and anti-smoking campaigns by making an annual payment to the states. Malik is hopeful that litigation history will repeat itself and pharma companies will make payments to drug treatment centers, and help support individuals with opioid addiction.
Opioids and Pain Management
"I'm hopeful that a lot of discovery material generated in this Cleveland opioid MDL will expose pharmaceutical marketing practiced by Purdue, J&J and Teva," says Malik. "It all started back in the 1990s with the push by pain management doctors to recast pain as something else. Pain was no longer a sign or symptom; instead it was dealt with aggressively with medication, rather than looking at the source of the pain. So, this paved the way for pain management doctors and clinics who just numbed the pain, whether you were suffering from broken bones or depression. And that started the whole shebang. We have always had pain in our lives and dealt with it but here was a different view of things and it had to do with narcotics."
Compound that problem with how easy it is to obtain opioids and them being so dirt cheap. "You can get fentanyl by mail order from China or Canada; they can be sent to you via the internet. They come as multiple dots on a piece of paper or wrap, so easy to disguise," adds Malik.
Elissa, aged 48 from New York underwent a surgical procedure last year to help correct nerve damage in her back and was prescribed oxycodone 20mg, cyclobenzaprine 10mg & gabapentin 900mg to help manage the pain during her recovery. In an email to LawyersandSettlements she describes her opioid dependency. "Dealing with daily and constant pain throughout my body has made me totally dependent on these drugs ... the side effects of taking the drugs has changed my life forever; and not for the better. I've been suffering from mood swings, aggressive behavior, insomnia, night sweats, nausea, stomach cramps and skin irritation just to name a few. The worst side effect of them all is depression."
And Jordan from Arkansas writes that he has been on prescription opioids for years and became addicted to them. "Getting help is where the problem lies… more attention needs to be brought into focus on the particular problem in order to provide help for those who are asking for help," he says in an email. "The meds have ruined my life and I wish I never started taking them. The medical industry needs to be held accountable, so I would appreciate being included in any actions that will be taken against them."
Opioid Multi-District Litigation in Cleveland
Malik is optimistic that the current opioid litigation will lead to an early settlement with these big pharma companies and distributors, "because they don't want to expose the can of worms behind this marketing deal and pharma doesn't want to air their dirty laundry," he says.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation recently created an MDL for opioid litigation known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, MDL #2804. Judge Daniel Polster is overseeing hundreds of lawsuits in this Cleveland MDL. According to the transfer order, the MDL litigation might also include "additional categories of plaintiffs and defendants, as well as different types of claims", which could include lawsuits filed by individuals affected by addiction.
Judge Dan Polster asked the DEA at the beginning of March to provide plaintiffs lawyers with the identities of drug manufacturers that sold 95 percent of opioids in every state for 2012 and 2013. Polster wants the DEA to release data from the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS, which is key for plaintiffs' attorneys. ARCOS contains information about sales of prescription painkillers - as Malik says, discovery can provide a "treasure trove of information". The case is In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation, case number 1:17-md-02804, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
Individual Opioid Lawsuits
"Once plaintiff attorneys have this information, we can start targeting single event cases where people have died in the event of taking opioids as prescribed," says Malik. "We will have the ability to sue pharma and doctors - in other words, follow the prescription paper trail. Everyone knows these drugs are dangerous but it is difficult to litigate, unless proven that pharma downplayed the dangers and committed fraud on the FDA and doctors. We are looking at millions of people and a multi-faceted problem and nobody has the answer-yet."
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