(Reuters) – Four drug manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., will go on trial on Monday over allegations that they helped drive an opioid crisis that has resulted in nearly 500,000 overdose deaths in the U.S.  The trial is one of several that want to hold companies accountable for the overdose and substance abuse crisis that will take place this year after the coronavirus pandemic delays disputes and puts renewed pressure on them to enter into multi-billion dollar settlements.  J&J, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Endo International PLC and the Abbvies Allergan Unit are accused by several California counties of fraudulently marketing painkillers in a way that downplayed their addictive risks of increasing sales.
If companies are held liable by Orange County Superior Court Peter Wilson after a trial that took place in practice, the counties say they should have to pay $ 50 billion to help cover the costs of reducing the oblique inconvenience they created plus penalties.
Opioids have resulted in overdose deaths of nearly 500,000 people from 1
"We need these companies to fund what it takes to try to undo the damage they have caused, and the scale and scale of it is enormous," Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in an interview.
His county sues the companies along with Los Angeles and Orange counties and the city of Oakland. Drug manufacturers deny wrongdoing, arguing that they have acted appropriately in marketing drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and that counties cannot prove that they are promoting opioids caused by the crisis.
In a statement, J&J called its marketing of the drugs "appropriate and responsible," Israel-based Teva said it would defend itself against these "unproven allegations." Endo and Allergan declined to comment.
More than 3,400 lawsuits, mostly brought by states and local governments, are pending against companies accused of operating the opioid epidemic.
The state of Oklahoma won a $ 465 million ruling against J&J in the United States in 2019, just one such lawsuit so far. Opioid cases that were to be brought before the trial in 2020 were postponed due to a massive new public health crisis which meant that jury members and lawyers could not be held in the same room.
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Some plaintiffs' lawyers said the delays benefited companies at the expense of states, counties and municipalities, saying they needed settlements to pay for the costs of tackling a pain-relieving epidemic that only got worse during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Nation's Three Largest Drug Distributors – McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc. – and J&J have proposed paying a total of $ 26 billion to settle the cases against them.
The proposal, the version of which was first presented in 2019, has not yet been finalized, and some complainants' lawyers say that they and other companies will only come to the table to complete the payments with trials.
"They continue to postpone Judgment Day," Elizabeth Chamblee Burc h, a law professor at the University of Georgia, said of the companies. "You really need trials to create that moment of pressure."
Next month, there is a closely monitored case that will go to trial in West Virginia accusing the three drug distributors of ignoring red flags indicating that the highly addictive painkillers were redirected incorrectly. They deny the allegations.
That case will be followed in June by a jury trial in New York against several drug manufacturers and distributors, which was delayed before the trial in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
"The day of the bill is coming," said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC representing New York's Nassau County. a trial. ”