Following a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, which has to pay $ 572 million in damages for opiate analgesics in Oklahoma, other pharmaceutical groups could agree to pay significant amounts to avoid long trials in one of the most serious health crises in the United States.
Purdue Farm, a manufacturer of one of the major opiate analgesics called Oxycontin, has already offered to pay between $ 10 billion and $ 12 billion to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits, according to US media. The case is due to appear before a federal judge in Ohio on Sept. 21.
The Sakler family-owned pharmaceutical group, which already accepted a settlement in Oklahoma in March with a $ 270 million payment to the state, did not confirm those amounts. But she acknowledged she was "actively" negotiating the deal, explaining that she "did not want to spend years in futile judicial battles" and expressed her desire to find a "constructive solution" to the opiate analgesic crisis, of which only in 2017 was due to an overdose in the US - 47,000 people died.
Other pharmaceutical companies and distributors targeting the Ohio case should now begin to think so, after an Oklahoma judge estimated Johnson & Johnson to bear some of the responsibility on Monday.
Johnson & Johnson, Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies and distributors are accused of persuading doctors to prescribe those drugs, initially reserved for patients with advanced cancer, even though they are known to cause severe addiction.
Since 1999, many users of these drugs have started taking increasing doses due to addiction, with a high risk of a fatal overdose.
Many defendant firms, especially in the Ohio case involving prosecutors in numerous local communities and states, "should now think twice" before deciding to go to court, Tobias says.
Although the "public health harm" law cited by the Oklahoma prosecutor is broader than in other states, and although Johnson & Johnson announced that they would appeal the verdict, the judge made it clear that pharmaceutical companies "could be held liable." for the crisis and its aftermath, he points out.
The Oklahoma trial, the first in that crisis that the Trump government declared national in 2017, also revealed a "surprising amount of incriminating elements" that could be used before other courts, said Elizabeth Burch, a law professor at the University of Georgia.
Another cause that could accelerate efforts to reach a settlement is the fact that the assessment of the damage caused by the crisis is steadily increasing.
The judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay only $ 572 million, which corresponds to the expected costs for the year, as it assessed that the evidence presented would justify the costs for the next year.
According to Caleb Alexander, an expert at Johns Hopkins University, measures that would need to be taken nationally to curb the crisis could reach $ 453 billion over the next 10 years.
With such estimates in mind, battles for pharmaceutical firms to pay some of the damages could intensify, Elizabeth Burch expects.
In Oklahoma, a deal with Purdue Farm announced in March envisaged that the $ 270 million that the lab agreed to pay would be used for the most part to fund an addiction research center at a local university.
Shortly afterwards, the parliament of that state passed a law that states that money should be returned to its coffers. And the federal government, meanwhile, has asked Oklahoma for part of the money paid.