A trial in Summit County’s civil lawsuit against a group of opioid manufacturers and distributors is scheduled to begin in a little less than a year, according to a county official.
The trial is slated to start on March 18, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, said Greta Johnson, chief of staff for Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. The case will be before Judge Dan Polster.
In addition to Summit County, suits filed by Cuyahoga County and the city of Cleveland also are slated to go on trial the same day, according to Johnson. Multiple communities within Summit County also have joined the litigation. Those communities are: Akron, Barberton, Boston Heights, Boston Township, Clinton, Copley Township, Coventry Township, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Green, Lakemore, Mogadore, Munroe Falls, Norton, Peninsula, Richfield Township, Richfield Village, Silver Lake, Stow, Springfield Township, Tallmadge, Summit County Public Health and Valley Fire District.
Multiple opioid manufacturers and distributors are named as defendants in the case. The manufacturing defendants named in the suit are "accused of unfairly, deceptively and fraudulently marketing and promoting opioids," according to information provided by the county. Those defendants are: Purdue Pharma LP; Purdue Pharma Inc.; Purdue Frederick Company Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA; Cephalon Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and Insys Therapeutics Inc.
The civil case filed by the county alleges the distributor defendants "freely distributed opioids into Summit County," according to the county. Those defendants are: McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.
Summit County initially filed the lawsuit in Summit County Common Pleas Court in late December 2017 and the case was transferred to U.S. District Court in mid-February, said Johnson.
Johnson told GateHouse Media on Friday the case will now go into a discovery process. A 20-page case management order was filed Wednesday that sets up a schedule of deadlines the parties must meet in the case, said Johnson.
She said Judge Polster had encouraged discussion between the parties, but noted that has not materialized.
"It has been pretty clear that the defendants have been extremely reluctant to discuss any settlement potential," said Johnson. "We have a trial date. We’re going to work toward that."
Johnson noted that Judge Polster selected cases filed by officials from West Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Florida and Alabama for "possible" trials, but she emphasized the Ohio entities’ lawsuits are the first ones in which a trial date has been set.
Johnson added, "The deficit in our communities’ capital — human, financial, morale — that deficit continues to grow. We need to send the message to the pharmaceutical companies that it’s time for them to take responsibility for their contribution to this crisis."
"The lawsuit that was filed seeks to hold these defendants accountable for their role in creating the opiate crisis in Summit County," said Johnson in a news conference announcing the litigation in December 2017. "And to pursue remedies to stop harmful marketing tactics and destructive distribution methods."
Shapiro previously said the county will spend a quarter of a billion dollars during a 10-year time frame dealing with drug addiction issues and the associated costs. Of that amount, she said more than $155 million is "directly attributable to the opioid crisis." She said the county medical examiner has reported a 209 percent increase in the amount of overdose deaths during the past five years.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.