As you know, I have been involved heavily with this litigation. I am a Co-Chair of the Opioids Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. AAJ is the largest plaintiff lawyers’ advocacy and education group in the US. I filed the Town of Amherst’s case against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid cases.

Originally, this litigation arose out of the crisis of opioid abuse in places like southern Ohio, West Virginia, and much of the Midwest. Originally, Purdue Pharmaceutical manufactured an opioid called OxyContin which was used for palliative care (to keep terminal patients comfortable). A couple of doctors had noticed that these terminal patients seldom got addicted to opioids, and they wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine describing their findings.

Not to let a marketing opportunity slip by, Purdue started to market OxyContin as a drug that could be used for pain relief of any kind. They went so far as to create their own junk science that “conclusion” that opioids are not addictive.

However, a manufacturer cannot sell drugs directly to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctor’s offices. There are distributors, such as McKesson, who have a “golden ticket” from the Drug Enforcement Agency to fill orders for controlled substances such as OxyContin.

Knowing that these drugs were addictive and deadly, companies such a Purdue looked the other way, and made billions of dollars in profits. Distributors such as McKesson had a duty to red flag suspicious orders, but did not, and allowed “pill mills” to flourish.

Municipalities fought back. Starting in Cabell County, West Virginia, towns, cities, counties, and states filed suit against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medications. They claimed that the defendants had created a “public nuisance.” Because they knew that opioids were addictive and dangerous, and sold them anyway, municipalities have had to spend significant amounts of money on law enforcement, medical treatment, Medicaid, jail costs, court costs, equiping fire departments and EMTs with medicines to treat overdoses, and the social damage to the community. If you have watched the news, you know that there was a verdict against the Defendants in Oklahoma, and that a case settled in Ohio.

There are two tracks for this litigation: the Multi-District Litigation (MDL), and State Court Litigation. Many of the Plaintiffs are in the MDL, which is located in the Northern District of Ohio. New York State has its own cases in Suffolk County Supreme Court, as Purdue and Endo are New York Corporations (which allows these cases to stay in New York State Court). The Ohio case was the “bellwether” case for the MDL.

Prior to the shutdowns caused by COVID-19, New York was to have its bellwether trial start March 19. Obviously, all of these cases were ground to a halt. But, there is some good news on the horizon: Cabell County West Virginia will see its trial commence in October:

Cabell County is ground zero for this epidemic. Paul Farrell, a personal injury lawyer from Huntington, was the originator of this suit. He will be going forward with this case. Cabell County was part of the MDL, and is considered a “Wave Two” of bellwether trials that were set to go before the pandemic.

Given Cabell County’s significance in all of this litigation, this is a trial to watch. I will be watching very closely to see how this case progresses, whether it actually goes to trial, and what the jury does in this case.