Nov 2, 2021 - Health

Judge rules against local governments in $50 billion opioid lawsuit

A pharmacist in Boston emptying a prescription bottle of opioid painkillers in September 2018.
A pharmacist in Boston emptying a prescription bottle of opioid painkillers in September 2018. Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A California judge ruled late Monday against Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Orange counties and the city of Oakland in their lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies over the marketing of opioid pain medications.

Why it matters: It was the first case in which a judge ruled in favor of drug manufacturers in the more than 3,300 lawsuits filed by states and local governments over the opioid epidemic, according to Reuters.

Driving the news: In a tentative ruling, Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson said the counties and Oakland failed to prove that the companies should be held legally liable for opioid overdose deaths that occurred in those parts of California.

  • The companies included Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Endo International and Allergan.
  • The local governments alleged that the companies were legal public nuisances because they downplayed the addictive risks of opioid medications, which allowed the drugs to proliferate and contribute to overdose deaths in their communities.
  • They were seeking more than $50 billion to provide opioid abatement programs.

The big picture: Wilson and the defendants did not deny the existence of an opioid epidemic in the U.S. but said, in this case, that the companies' advertisements did not create a rise in prescriptions for opioids.

  • Wilson said the companies could not be a public nuisance when the medications they were selling were authorized by several states and the federal government.

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