Jury finds pharmaceutical company liable for New York opioid crisis

A jury on Thursday found drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals liable for fueling the opioid crisis in New York.

Jurors concluded that the actions by Teva and its subsidiaries helped create a “public nuisance” by flooding the state with pills that killed thousands of people. The public nuisance argument is being used by plaintiffs in thousands of other opioid lawsuits nationwide.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2019 and the verdict came after a six-month trial that began with dozens of defendants across the pharmaceutical supply chain. Eventually, all other defendants except for Teva and its subsidiary companies reached multimillion-dollar settlements.

The lawsuit was the first of its kind to target companies that made the drugs along with distributors and pharmacies that filled prescriptions. It was argued jointly by the state as well as Suffolk and Nassau counties. 

The lawsuit argued manufacturers had engaged in misleading marketing practices that fueled opioid addiction in the state, including by pushing drugs for off-label use. According to the initial complaint, manufacturers pushed claims that opioids could improve quality of life and cognitive functioning, and promoted false statements about their non-addictive nature.

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said other settlements from manufacturers and distributors have netted about $1.5 billion.

“While no amount of money will ever compensate for the human suffering, the addiction, or the lives lost due to opioid abuse, we will immediately push to move forward with a trial to determine how much Teva and others will pay,” James said in a statement.

“This is a significant day for New York state. This is a significant day for this nation. But, more importantly, this is a significant day for every family and community torn apart by opioids.”

Teva in a statement said it would “swiftly” appeal the verdict.

“The plaintiffs presented no evidence of medically unnecessary prescriptions, suspicious or diverted orders, no evidence of oversupply by the defendants – or any indication of what volumes were appropriate – and no causal relationship between Teva’s conduct including its marketing and any harm to the public in the state,” the company said.

The public nuisance argument has already been rejected twice in separate trials against opioid manufacturers, but if the verdict were to stand it would put pressure on the company to settle with other states and counties.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a verdict against Johnson & Johnson, and a judge in California similarly ruled that manufacturer Allergan, Endo, Johnson & Johnson and Teva could not be held liable because the companies had no control over how patients used their products once they reached the market.

Initially, the New York attorney general filed suit against six manufacturers as well as the largest distributors in the country. 

Just before the trial began, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $230 million. Allergan settled on the day of closing arguments for up to $200 million. 

In July, distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen settled for up to $1 billion. And in September, Endo and Purdue settled, James said.  

All funds collected by the state from opioid settlements or litigation victories will be allocated specifically for abatement efforts in communities devastated by the opioid epidemic and will not go toward the state’s general fund.

Tags New York Opioid crisis opioid trial Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
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