Cost of Opioid Crisis ‘Dwarfs’ Drugmakers’ Resources, N.Y. Says

By Erik Larson | October 8, 2019

The public cost of coping with the opioid crisis in the U.S. “dwarfs” the combined resources of the companies sued for allegedly causing the epidemic, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP, a lawyer for New York State told a judge.

“That’s the reality of the opioid litigation,” David Nachman, a lawyer for New York Attorney General Letitia James, said at a hearing Monday in Central Islip, New York, where dozens of lawsuits filed in the state against about 80 defendants have been consolidated.

State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo is weighing requests to dismiss New York’s lawsuit against Purdue and its owners, the billionaire Sackler family, as well as groups of manufacturers, distributors and other defendants who contend they’ve been wrongfully accused.

Nachman made the comment about possible damages in the case after the judge asked him whether the total public cost of the crisis should be estimated before a trial set for April or May, as some of the parties have argued.

“We think the number is so large that it’s not going to be meaningful,” Nachman said.

The judge declined to hear arguments from Purdue and the Sacklers for now, citing a hearing Friday in a New York bankruptcy court in which their lawyers will argue that all litigation against them should be blocked as a result of the company’s mid-September filing for protection from creditors. Purdue wants the injunction extended to cover its owners.

Lawyers for Purdue and the Sacklers have denied wrongdoing and argue that halting litigation will preserve the value of the company and allow them to move forward with a proposed settlement valued at $10 billion, including at least $3 billion from the Sacklers. About half the states involved, including New York, have rejected the deal.

Lawyers for the manufacturers and distributors told the judge on Monday that the claims against them should be dismissed because the state failed to establish that the crisis was a “public nuisance,” the central claim in New York’s lawsuit.

“What’s the public nuisance here?” Donna Welch, a lawyer who argued on behalf of manufacturers, asked at the hearing. “They won’t say.”

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