In the first federal trial over the opioid epidemic, two counties in Ohio, Summit and Cuyahoga, are suing generic drug makers Actavis and Cephalon; the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson; and the pharmacy chain Walgreens.
Jury selection for the trial began Wednesday and trial arguments are scheduled to begin Monday. The trial is considered particularly important because it could likely shape how future claims against drug distributors and manufacturers are treated.
There are more than 2,000 lawsuits filed by local governments and other entities against drug companies for the opioid epidemic’s effects.
Around 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid. Also in 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescriptions, heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, was six times higher than in 1999, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Summit and Cuyahoga counties are claiming in the suit that the named drug companies, and others, distributed and sold prescription painkillers in a conspiracy that has cost the counties hundreds of millions of dollars a year as well as lives of citizens who have died from overdoses.
Some companies have escaped a trial by reaching a settlement or declaring bankruptcy. Purdue Pharma is one of five companies that has done that in order to be dismissed from its first federal trial.
It could take up to three days to choose jurors for the trial because of recent complications where a potential settlement was reported in the Wall Street Journal. People from Summit County won’t be on the jury and anyone who says they have a close connection to the opioid crisis, such as losing a loved one, will not be part of the jury.
The drug companies say they’re not at fault because they only supplied drugs that doctors prescribed.