Four California counties are demanding $50 billion from Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Endo International Plc, and Allergan Plc for their roles in marketing and distributing powerful opioid narcotics throughout their communities. And, as thousands of other municipalities and localities wait to have their own days in court to hold pharmaceutical manufacturers responsible, both sides are paying very close attention to what happens in the California case.
“This case could wind up being a real worst-case scenario for some of these companies,” said University of Kentucky law professor Richard Ausness to Bloomberg News. Acknowledging that the counties will likely never receive anything approaching $50 billion, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Holly Froum says the case still “ratchets up settlement pressure on Teva and J&J.”
The case was brought by the city of Oakland, along with Los Angeles, Santa Clara, and Orange counties and is being pursued as an actual trial against the drug manufacturers rather than seeking a settlement. Such settlements absolve drug companies of their liability and responsibility for flooding communities with addictive painkillers. But leaders from municipalities across the country don’t simply want compensation for the money they’ve spent cleaning up in the pharmaceutical industry’s wake – they want an actual acceptance of responsibility.
The pharmaceutical industry, as one might imagine, is remiss to offer any such acceptance and just wants to write a check and make the matter go away. Settlement proposals have ranged from the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars and, in most cases, are far below what state and local governments believe they need to recuperate money spent out of their budgets throughout the opioid crisis.
And, of course, every proposal comes with an adamant rejection of the notion of any wrongdoing on their part. Teva spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty might sum up the pharmaceutical industry’s position best as she both acknowledges the crisis and absolves her company of any responsibility for it in the same breath. “While we do remain eager to identifying collaborative solutions to this crisis,” she said in an email to Bloomberg News, “we will vigorously defend Teva against these unproven allegations in Court.”