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First Trial Scheduled in Opioid MDL

Judge Polster schedules opioid MDL for March 2019 startThe judge overseeing the MDL that seeks to hold drug manufacturers and distributors responsible for their roles in the nation’s ongoing opioid abuse epidemic has scheduled the first cases in the litigation for trial. If all goes to plan, some very serious questions might start seeing answers beginning in March of next year.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Polster had, to this point, sought to get the two sides to agree to a global settlement. In such a settlement, the municipalities, cities, towns, and states that have sued Big Pharma would agree to a single amount that the industry would pay to settle all remaining opioid litigation. The terms would also have likely mandated that the industry take certain actions to reduce the flow of drugs into the nation’s communities and help to treat those that had become addicted to powerful painkillers.

Neither side, however, has appeared to be particularly amicable to such an arrangement and, as a result, the judge has moved to begin what will likely be a lengthy and incredibly complicated process that will have far-reaching impacts on the lives of millions.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Judge Polster has selected three lawsuits filed by municipalities in Ohio as the first bellwether opioid cases to be heard by a jury. Over 430 similar lawsuits are awaiting trial and could be resolved as the result of a ruling in the MDL. Defendants such as Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical and McKesson face lawsuits filed by local governments in West Virginia, Illinois, Alabama, Michigan, and Florida.

Judge Polster also ordered the DEA to comply with a request for information put forth by the plaintiffs earlier this year. This past March, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs requested the full contents of the agency’s database that tracks drug manufacturer and distributor transactions. While a compromise solution was put forth by the DEA that would have withheld certain information, it appears that continuing efforts regarding the matter have stalled. Judge Polster has now deemed certain data held by the DEA to be “critical” to the case and has ordered its release. The Justice Department had no comment on the matter.

When an MDL panel first assigned the opioid cases to Judge Polster, he made it perfectly clear that he meant to take real action in the matter. “My objective,” he said when first greeting lawyers for the opposing sides, “is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018.” While that goal seems a little less attainable today, 2019 could be historic in the story of the nation’s opioid addiction crisis.