In February, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed suit against four major prescription opioid distributors, alleging that the drug companies acted irresponsibly by oversupplying drugs and using unsafe distribution practices.Office of the Attorney General of Ohio, “Attorney General DeWine Files Lawsuit Against Opioid Distributors for Practices Fueling Opioid Diversion,” press release (Columbus, OH: Office of the Attorney General of Ohio, February 26, 2018).
And Ohio isn’t alone: more states and cities—and even the Cherokee Nation—are adding their names to the growing list of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis.Nicole Fisher, “Opioid Lawsuits on Par to Become Largest Civil Litigation Agreement in U.S. History,” Forbes, October 18, 2018. Claims range from Florida’s suit seeking damages for “costs related to drug treatment, babies born addicted to opioids, state foster care services, law enforcement and other taxpayer expenses caused by the epidemic” to Massachusetts’s claims against Purdue Pharma for “full and complete restitution to every person who has suffered any ascertainable loss by reason of their unlawful conduct.”Nicole Fisher, “Opioid Lawsuits on Par to Become Largest Civil Litigation Agreement in U.S. History,” Forbes, October 18, 201.; and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Purdue Pharma et al. (Ma. Superior Ct., Suffolk County, June 13, 2018) (complaint). States are also targeting pharmacies: in November, Florida added CVS and Walgreens to its lawsuit, accusing them of racketeering by trying to “sell as many opioids as possible, including by failing to institute safeguards and by marketing opioids to their vast networks of retail pharmacy stores and in-store pharmacists.”Lawrence Mower and Tracey McManus, “Florida Claims Walgreens, CVS Are Complicit in Opioid Crisis, Adds Them to Lawsuit,” Miami Herald, November 29, 2018. Experts say that while the strength of the claims vary, the lawsuits still have the potential to result in perhaps the largest aggregate settlement ever; larger even than the Big Tobacco settlement of the 1990s.Fisher, “Opioid Lawsuits,” 2018. But opioids, unlike tobacco, have legitimate medical uses and the gains from the tobacco settlements remain murky, leaving predictions for the litigation’s success in delivering effective remedies for legal wrongs and public health issues uncertain.Derek Carr, Corey S. Davis, and Lainie Rutkow, "Reducing Harm through Litigation against Opioid Manufacturers? Lessons from the Tobacco Wars," Public Health Reports 133, no. 2 (2018), 207-13.