“About 150 Americans are going to die today, just today, while we’re meeting. And in my humble opinion, everyone shares some of the responsibility, and no one has done enough to abate it.”
These are the words that U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland, Ohio used to greet the lawyers representing the two sides of the opioid epidemic earlier this year. “People aren’t interested in figuring out the answer to interesting legal questions like pre-emption and learning intermediary, or unraveling complicated conspiracy theories,” he continued. “My objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018.”
He then took aim at the drug manufacturers themselves; a group that has gone to extraordinary lengths to avail themselves of any responsibility for a crisis that extends from America’s biggest cities to its smallest towns. “I’m confident we can do something to dramatically reduce the number of opioids that are being disseminated, manufactured, and distributed,” he says. “Just dramatically reduce the quantity and make sure that the pills that are manufactured and distributed go to the right people and no one else.”
Previously limited to the David versus Goliath tales reserved for when individual citizens take on the drug companies, the latest litigations have involved local, city, and some state legislations suing to recover funds spent cleaning up the opioid mess as well as seeking an end to the practices that led to the crisis in the first place. At this point, some 250 municipalities are involved in lawsuits against titans of the opioid industry, including their manufacturers and distributors.
As admirable as Judge Polster’s intentions might be, the battle he faces to create some forward movement toward a resolution is beyond uphill at this point and will require an almost insurmountable effort. Each new lawsuit and settlement spawns more lawsuits and settlements. And while the costs are certainly mounting for the drug makers, the legal wrangling continues as the specifics of each settlement create frameworks for what the manufacturers and distributors will and will not take responsibility for.
Judge Polster’s assignment to the opioid MDL came with high accolades for his judicial prowess. Upon selecting him to preside over the proceedings, the MDL panel stated that it had “no doubt that Judge Polster will steer this litigation on a prudent course.”
He certainly has his work cut out for him.