The 10 Biggest Opioid Lawsuits in U.S. History


There is an overall acknowledgment that opioids are one of the greatest health problems which the U.S is facing today. The problem is so severe that the Health Services declared it a public health emergency in 2017. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, at least 70,630 people died of opioid overdose in 2019, with 10.1 million misusing its prescription in the last one year. Apart from death, opioid is being attributed to being one of the causes of withdrawal syndrome in babies for mothers who misuse them. The problem started in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies pushed the agenda that opioid drugs could not cause addiction. They persuaded medics to start prescribing opioid -drugs to their medical clients.

However, in different circumstances, it has been found that opioid has adverse effects on users. The result is that companies have found themselves entangled in serious lawsuits with different entities concerning their use of opioids to manufacture their products. In this article, we shall examine the biggest lawsuits in the history of the United States.

10. New York Attorney General Office vs. Johnson & Johnson, Fueling of the Opioid Crisis ($230 million)

If the largest opioid lawsuits in U.S. history could turn into a match, then there will be serious competition between Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma. According to CBS News, Johnson & Johnson agreed with the New York attorney in June 2021, to pay $230 million to settle a lawsuit which the latter had brought against the company. The attorney had accused the company of manufacturing and irresponsibly selling products with opioids, which led to increased misuse, addiction, and abuse. Compared to other suits where the company was only allowed to make payments and continue with operations, at this time, it committed to quitting the opioid business in New York for good. According to the attorney, James, the company’s products had contributed to over 500,000 deaths in N.Y. and the whole country. As usual, the company released a statement alleging that the settlement did not amount to an admission of guilt.

9. Oklahoma vs. Purdue Pharma &Its Owners, Contributing to the Opioid Crisis in Oklahoma ($270 million)

The state’s attorney based most of his arguments on the 2007 Virginia and 25 Others Versus Purdue Pharma, Knowingly Providing Misleading Information on the Opioid Levels in OxyContin ($635 million) (see in a separate part of this article) case. Before taking on Johnson & Johnson in the Oklahoma Versus Johnson & Johnson, The Respondent Found Guilty of Contributing to the Opioid Crisis in Oklahoma ($570 million) (see in a different part of this article), the state had taken action against Purdue Pharma and its owners on the same grounds- the respondent marketed the OxyContin irresponsibly which led to the painkillers’ overdose, misuse, and addiction.

It alleged that the addition was due to Oxycodone, an addictive opioid. Unlike Johnson & Johnson, the respondents decided to enter into a $270 million settlement in this case. Most of the money was to be used in empowering new research, treatment, and education at Oklahoma State University to manage addiction and pain. Other percentages were to go to legal fees, city budgets, and treatment of affected community members.

8. New York Attorney General vs. Teva Pharmaceuticals & 3 Others, Deceptive Marketing Lawsuit ($500 million)

In January 2018, New York City sued Teva Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson and Johnson, accusing them of deceptive marketing of their opioid products. In addition, it claimed that the misuse of the products had health implications for its residents, resulting in overstraining its medical facilities and law enforcement agents. There were 1000 deaths related to opioids in 2016. The source also stated that opioids killed more New Yorkers between 2010 and 2016 than road accidents. In support of the lawsuit, the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, said that the companies were allowed to get away with murder. The attorney general was demanding a $500 million payment.

7. Oklahoma vs. Johnson & Johnson, The Respondent Found Guilty of Contributing to the Opioid Crisis in Oklahoma ($570 million)

Many companies sued by states take the option of settling the matter out of court. However, Johnson & Johnson chose to go to the full trial when the Oklahoma attorney sued it for contributing to the opioid crisis within its borders. However, the matter filed at the Cleveland District Court did not turn out to be one of the best for the company. According to Vox, the judge presiding the case, Thad Balkman, slapped the company with an order requiring it to pay $570 million to the plaintiff for the alleged atrocities.

This was the first biggest ruling by a judge against pharmaceuticals on the same matter, and it was delivered in August 2019. In its case, the state argued that the respondent had manufactured and sold opioid painkillers, which resulted in increased drug misuse, overdoses, and addiction. In other words, it convinced the judge that the company produced the painkillers and sustained them through irresponsible advertisements.

6. District of Columbia &Five Others vs. McKinsey & Company, Paying for Playing a Role in the Sale of “Turbocharge” Opioid ($600 million)

The respondent is a consultant for large corporations and different governments. Purdue Pharma had hired the entity to help it market the OxyContin painkiller. Among many other things, it helped the pharmaceutical company in driving sales through different marketing strategies, which included but were not limited to roadshows and social media coverage. Documents showed that the respondent had even suggested a plan to have Purdue Pharma collaborate with other opioid makers so that they could head off the “awful” treatment they were getting from different U.S authorities.

District of Columbia, together with other states, capitalized on the documents unearthed in Virginia and 25 Others Versus Purdue Pharma, Knowingly Providing Misleading Information on the Opioid Levels in OxyContin ($635 million) case (see in a separate part of the article) to prove that the respondent knowingly participated in the promotion of addictive opioid products. To settle the matter, it agreed to pay $573 to the states, and in separate deals, it also agreed to pay $10 million to West Virginia and $13 million to Washington on the same count.

5. Virginia and 25 Others vs. Purdue Pharma, Knowingly Providing Misleading Information on the Opioid Levels in OxyContin ($635 million)

Purdue Pharma is perhaps the most sued pharmaceutical company in the United States. In 2007, the company, its president, a former medical officer, and top lawyers pleaded guilty to providing misleading information about the risk of opioid addiction to the OxyContin painkiller. Despite being warned by specialists that the drug was addictive in 1995, it continued giving wrong information to its sales team that the drug was less addictive and less-abuse levels compared to other painkillers in the United States. As per the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the drug caused 146 deaths and contributed to 136 others in 2002 alone.

In addition, the authority also reported that deaths related to Oxycodone (the opioid substance in OxyContin) had increased by 400 percent between 1996 to 2001, and its sales increased by 20 times over the same period. In May 2007, the parties agreed to pay $635 million to settle the matter. Of the total funds, $5 million would be used to monitor the company’s compliance with the agreement. The rest was to be divided among the suing parties, the Virginia Prescription Monitoring program.

4. Department of Justice (DOJ) vs. Reckitt Benckiser Group, Settlement of the Investigation Over the Suboxone Drug ($1.4 billion)

The DOJ released a statement on July 11, 2019, stating that it had secured a settlement against the plaintiff in an attempt to resolve a lawsuit which the DOJ had accused the company for manufacturing Suboxone which had addictive opioid. The DOJ, together with the Federal Trade Commission, had established that the drug contained buprenorphine which has already been classified among addictive opioids. According to the DOJ fillings, the company had sold and promoted Suboxone as a less-divertible/abusable drug safer around children than other drugs with buprenorphine drugs. However, it could not provide scientific proof of the same. Among the total payments, $647 million were fortunes of the proceeds of the profits the company had from selling the drug, $700 million would go to the states and the federal government, whereas $50 million was to cater for the administrative fees of the case.

3. Florida, Texas & Others vs. Teva, An Admission to contributing to the Opioid Crisis ($4.35 billion)

Teva is an Israel-based -company that manufactures Fentora and Actiq drugs. In addition, the company is involved in producing and distributing generic opioids, the most famous one being Oxycodone. Florida, Texas, and other states joined hands and launched lawsuits claiming that the company had contributed to the opioid crisis by manufacturing generic opioid drugs. On July 20-22, CNBC reported that the company had entered into a $4.35 billion settlement with the suing states to dispose of the accumulated lawsuits.

The total monies were to be paid over a period of13 years. $3.7 billion was awarded to the local and state governments, in addition to providing $1.2 billion for Naloxone, an opioid overdose drug. In addition, $100 million would go to the Native Americans and cater for the legal fee. The states were supposed to use the money in rehabilitation programs targeting the affected parties. The case hit the company so hard that it led to an 11 percent drop in its shares in the New York Exchange Market.

2. The different States, Cities, and Counties vs. Purdue Pharma & Sackler Family, Accusations of Starting and Sustaining Opioid Crisis ($12 billion)

When defending the American people against companies that have created the opioid crisis, state, county, and city attorneys have taken the leading role. The CNBC News reported on August 2019 that Purdue Pharma had agreed on a $12 billion deal to settle several lawsuits which they had brought against them. The parties discussed the deal in Cleveland. The plaintiffs alleged that the company knowingly created an opioid crisis by overdosing on OxyContin and other drugs it had manufactured. To them, the company not only created but also sustained the crisis by producing and marketing opioid-powered drugs between 1999 and 2017.

Lawyers representing the company alleged that they were ready to get into the settlement because they believed the case would have wasted time and legal resources. Some of the states represented in the case included New Jersey and Massachusetts. People privy to the deal informed the media that it would take ten years to settle the deal.

1. State Governments & Native Americans vs. Johnson & Johnson & Others, Settlement of Longstanding Lawsuits by the Plaintiffs ($26 billion)

According to NPR, in February 2022, four leading companies agreed to pay $26 billion to settle lawsuits that the 46 states had brought since 2014. The main targeted companies were McKesson ($7.4 billion), AmerisourceBergen ($6.1 billion), Cardinal Health ($6 billion), and Johnson and Johnson ($5 billion). The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that, through their products, the companies had fueled the deadly opioid crisis in the United States. The companies said that the settlement did not mean admission of liability, but the states acknowledged their move.

The states promised to use the monies to rehabilitate the affected parties and broaden the campaign against the use of opioid products. The negotiation on the deal was led by the North Carolina Attorney General, John Stein, who said it was a show of accountability by the four firms. The lawsuit cemented the position and role of the states in protecting their locals on matters of public health.

In Conclusion

As seen in the above discussion, it is clear that deceptive marketing skills aimed at causing and sustaining an opioid crisis are the major cause of the biggest opioid lawsuits in the United States. It also appears that the states are at the awakening stage of holding these companies responsible because all the lawsuits came out in the 20th century. The companies must be warned that this pattern may be similar to the one taken by the tobacco lawsuits, which means that individuals will start filing class and personal lawsuits and might lose more money.

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