Judge seeks funding information in opioid-manufacturer lawsuits

Photo Credit: By richiec from Chicago, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Credit: By richiec from Chicago, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A U.S. District judge wants information about the funders behind hundreds of lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of opioids.

The judge overseeing more than 600 lawsuits targeting opioid makers is demanding local governments’ lawyers turn over information about any litigation-funding agreements and provide assurance that lenders won’t gain control over legal strategy or settlements,” Bloomberg reported.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland issued the order on May 7, “saying he wants to ensure the agreements don’t create conflicts of interest by affecting plaintiffs lawyers’ judgments in pursuing cases against opioid makers, such as Purdue Pharma LLP and Johnson & Johnson, and distributors such as McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.”

Bloomberg explained, “He wants to know details of any lending arrangements, and he requested sworn statements from the lawyers and lenders that there won’t be any conflicts of interest and that the lenders won’t have control over strategy, advocacy or settlement decisions.”

On April 11, Reuters reported that Polster was pushing for a settlement and pursuing an aggressive schedule “that would have the first trial take place in March 2019.”

Reuters noted, “The lawsuits accuse the drugmakers of deceptively marketing opioids and allege that drug distributors ignored red flags indicating the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses. In 2016, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Trump administration targets opioid manufacturers

President Trump and the U.S. Justice Department have championed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers as part of a broader push to stem the deadly rise in opioid addiction.

CNBC reported that the U.S. Justice Department launched a new task force to “target the makers and distributors of prescription painkillers who, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have contributed to an epidemic of fatal overdoses from opioids by selling too much of the addictive drugs.”

Sessions said he is ordering the task force “to examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine if we can be of assistance,” CNBC reported.

President Trump made his first visit to New Hampshire since the 2016 election on Monday, March 19, when he rolled out a plan to curb opioid addiction.

The New York Times noted that the plan included “the death penalty for drug dealers and a crackdown on illegal immigrants.”

New Hampshire experienced the nation’s third-highest rate of deaths from overdoses, The New York Times reported. “Drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States in 2016, according to initial estimates from the C.D.C., and have become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50,” the newspaper reported.

In response to the President’s speech, Sessions said he assigned “a dozen experienced prosecutors in opioid hot-spot districts to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.”

President Trump visited NH on 3/19/18 to speak about the opioid epidemic. Photo credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times as reported by The New York Times on 3/19/18.

President Trump visited NH on 3/19/18 to speak about the opioid epidemic. Photo credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times as reported by
The New York Times
on 3/19/18.

Sessions, in a speech on Thursday, March 22, noted that the President has voiced his “strong support for the Department of Justice’s new Prescription Interdiction and Litigation — or PIL — Task Force,” which will “focus on and coordinate the Department’s efforts to investigate, prosecute or bring lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors who have unlawfully contributed to this epidemic” and will review existing laws. It will also consider assisting with ongoing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.