Over the last few years, a high volume of lawsuits have been launched against opioid manufacturers from state and city governments. So far, 41 state Attorney Generals have banded together to investigate drug makers and distributors, while federal courts are overseeing more than 200 lawsuits by cities and counties.
These cases seek monetary damages from drug manufacturers, claiming they deliberately misled doctors and patients regarding the safety of opioid products, resulting in the harm of the opioid epidemic.
Momentum for such lawsuits began to develop in 2015 when Mississippi's Attorney General, the same office that successfully led the charge against big tobacco in the 1990s, filed suit. This initial investigation uncovered information that prompted other states and organizations to file suits, resulting in a vicious cycle of discovery and litigation.
Specific accusations vary by locale, but an investigative report from The Los Angeles Times claims that certain manufacturers encouraged doctors to prescribe higher doses of opioids than necessary to avoid changing dosing schedules, while also encouraging doctors to prescribe opioids for common conditions such as back aches and knee pain.
While allegations have yet to be proven in court, the sheer volume of attention these lawsuits have built has caused the Department of Justice to announce the creation of the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force. The group aims to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for unlawful practices and examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine what assistance, if any, federal law can provide in those lawsuits.
With more parties continuing to approach this issue, it is likely these lawsuits will continue to intensify. Among many recent developments, a Mississippi hospital system filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of other hospitals, arguing that the increase of opioid addicts in care units, who often do not pay for care, has caused significant financial burden. This recent lawsuit indicates that different stakeholders may continue to join this endeavor to hold drug manufacturers accountable for their practices.