Interview Synopsis

US opioid litigation – H2 2021 update & outlook

  • Credit
  • Healthcare
  • North America

On January 14, New Mexico received USD 44mn from Johnson & Johnson (J&J) as part of a deal to resolve claims it fueled the opioid crisis in the southwestern state – becoming the latest state to opt into a USD 26bn settlement agreement with J&J and other drug distributors McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp and Cardinal Health Inc. The settlement comes at a time when more than 3,300 opioid-related lawsuits are still pending, as states and local governments attempt to hold companies accountable for a health crisis that has claimed the lives of more than half a million people.

“Anyone who touched opioids” likely to face a degree of liability

Such is the width and breadth of this crisis, it is likely that any firm associated within the opioids supply-chain will incur some degree of liability, a former SVP at Teva Pharmaceutical told Third Bridge Forum. 

Brand name manufacturers will continue to be “primary targets” because of their involvement in promoting and manufacturing opioids, the specialist said, but we were told they also expect wholesalers, retail chain pharmacies and generic drug manufacturers to be implicated – with settlements likely to be in the billions for all. 

However, the specialist said that there is a long way to go before a resolution is found that satisfies all parties given the complexities of these cases, and it is likely there will continue to be wins for both plaintiffs and defendants, as well as numerous appeals. The specialist highlighted the recent Multi-District Litigation (MDL) in Ohio against Walgreens, Walmart and CVS as one that should have a “strong case” on appeal, pointing to recent wins for opioid manufacturers in California and Oklahoma who had rulings related to breaking public nuisance law overturned – one of the key claims made in many opioid lawsuits.  

Last year’s settlement offering from the four big drug distributors is also positive for companies facing litigation given it “creates a template for future settlements” to follow. The specialist said this settlement is “the first step” in agreeing future settlements between drug companies and states and local governments, who we’re told are likely to settle as they search for funds to fight both an opioid and COVID-19 crisis simultaneously. 

The specialist was also optimistic that opioid liabilities for companies are “manageable and resolvable”, with no one needing to file for bankruptcy to manage these litigations at this point. They also questioned whether drug manufacturers will pay the USD 26bn settlement in its entirety, calling it a “headline number” that could be reduced depending on the number of states and local governments that finally sign up to it. 

February 1 is the deadline for when the drug companies will decide if enough political subdivisions have signed on and how much money they will distribute to individual states and local governments. Nevertheless, the outcome is unlikely to be the end of settlements, with the specialist comparing the opioid case to previous tobacco settlements which continued for many years, even after a sizable settlement was agreed.  

To access all the human insights in Third Bridge Forum’s US opioid litigation – H2 2021 update & outlook Interview, click here to view the full transcript.

The information used in compiling this document has been obtained by Third Bridge from experts participating in Forum Interviews. Third Bridge does not warrant the accuracy of the information and has not independently verified it. It should not be regarded as a trade recommendation or form the basis of any investment decision.

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