CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — A landmark trial targeting multiple opioid manufacturers and distributors opened Tuesday with lawyers for the government accusing the companies of bringing death and destruction to communities.
The case bought by Suffolk and Nassau counties and state Attorney General Letitia James is part of a slew of litigation over an epidemic linked to nearly 500,000 deaths over the last two decades.
But this case is unique in targeting the entire opioid supply chain and for being tried in front of a jury, instead of a judge. The case is being heard in a Long Island law school auditorium to accommodate the multiple defendants and their lawyers.
Jayne Conroy, the lawyer for Suffolk County, said in her opening statement that she would try to show how drug makers and distributors had operated in a “parallel universe” from those experiencing the ravages of opioid addiction.
“Death and destruction in the communities, and the celebration of blockbuster sales and profits in the boardroom,” Conroy said, according to The New York Times.
Purdue Pharma was initially named in the case, as were some individual members of the Sackler family, before the company filed for bankruptcy. Cases against Purdue, Mallinckrodt, and Rochester Drug Cooperative are all now moving separately through U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to James’ office.
Defendants in the suit included Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates; Allergan Finance, LLC and its affiliates McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation, according the attorney general’s office.
Defendants say the claims are overly broad and their culpability cannot be proven, according to court documents cited by The Times.
James announced Saturday that one defendant, Johnson & Johnson, agreed in an 11th-hour settlement to pay the state up to $230 million to stop manufacturing or distributing opioids.
Johnson & Johnson said the settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing and that it involved two prescription painkillers — developed by a subsidiary and accounting for less than 1% of the market — that are no longer sold in the U.S.
James told reporters after court adjourned for the day that the defendants failed to adhere to state law, lacked effective controls and failed to detect suspicious orders.
“They failed to notify or inform proper authorities and their compliance efforts were basically non-existent,” she said during a teleconference.