Attorneys are attempting to put together a settlement that would make a “meaningful impact on the deeply tragic opioid crisis.”
There are now nearly 2,000 opioid lawsuits pending in federal court. States, counties and cities across the U.S. are seeking to hold drug companies like Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and McKesson accountable for fueling the national opioid epidemic.
The companies are accused of aggressive and improper marketing of opioid drugs like OxyContin and downplaying the risks of developing a drug use disorder.
With so many lawsuits seeking money damages for the devastating impact that opioid abuse has inflicted on American communities, the question of how they will be dealt with remains.
The Master Plan
In June, a group of attorneys representing 1,200 counties, cities and towns proposed a plan to reach a settlement with two-dozen drugmakers and distributors. One of the attorneys, Joe Rice, was the architect of the 1998 Master Settlement between 46 states and major U.S. cigarette manufacturers, WBUR reported. “Tens of billions of dollars would be needed to make a significant—a real significant impact on this epidemic,” said Rice.
The plan is “ambitious and creative but fundamentally flawed,” according to attorney Mark A. Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. Gottlieb, wary of its potential impact, emphasized the importance of making a strong statement with the massive settlement that would provide closure for both parties. Ideally it would be a symbolic end to the opioid crisis.
“While any new ‘master settlement’ must primarily compensate the plaintiffs for their losses, a settlement that simply moves money around, as the tobacco settlement did, has no chance at having a meaningful impact on the deeply tragic opioid crisis,” wrote Gottlieb in his commentary.
Safeguarding The Future
Gottlieb proposed securing a portion of the settlement that will go to future safeguards against similar crises. He suggests an independent foundation to serve as a watchdog over the pain management and addiction treatment industries, to provide opioid prescribing education, to fund treatment and prevention programs, to fund addiction-related medications such as naloxone and buprenorphine, and to advise policymakers on relevant legislation.
“We must ensure that we do not squander the opportunity to address the opioid crisis through a coordinated public health approach in the next settlement,” Gottlieb wrote.