CLEARFIELD – The status of Clearfield County’s lawsuit against “Big Pharma” was discussed during Tuesday’s regular commissioners’ meeting.
Attorney Michael D’Amico, Esq. of D’Amico Law Offices LLC of Pittsburgh said the lawsuit was filed last September to recover costs the county has had to shoulder due to the opioid crisis.
Since then, he said the county’s case has been coordinated with a number of others in Delaware County because of rules of procedure when there are “common issues of law and fact.”
He said there’s over 1,700 other cases like it, and it was coordinated in the county that filed first. He said a number of entities have objected to the coordination, and it’s still being argued right now.
D’Amico said some want cases remanded to their own county and others want to switch to a different county but to keep the matter coordinated.
So far as trial strategy, he said they attended a meeting in Houston, Texas in December that brought together representatives from state and Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) filings.
He explained that the county’s case is in the Pennsylvania state court while the MDL is in the federal court. In state court here, they’re trying to iron out language for a protective order.
He said the defendants are seeking a protective order and negotiations are under way to determine what language is suitable for all the different defense and plaintiff entities.
Additionally, D’Amico said they’re trying to set some procedures for the discovery process, which is the fact-finding component of the litigation.
He said it’s anticipated that discovery in the state process will be very similar to what’s currently ongoing in the MDL, which was the reasoning behind the joint meeting.
He said the MDL has three bellwether cases, which are being used sort of like a “trial” and being overseen by Judge Dan Aaron Polster in Cleveland, Ohio.
D’Amico said Polster wants to use these cases to get everyone on the same page because it’s anticipated that the defendants won’t want to settle one case but to work out a “packaged deal.”
“… They’re not going to want to try this case … with all the bad facts that will come out and the potential liability,” he said. “It’s also risky on the plaintiff’s side … it’s why Judge Polster and the judge – at the state level – are pushing for a settlement.”
According to D’Amico, the MDL’s discovery process is currently limited to the three bellwether cases, and one of the discussion topics has been how to mine through all the data.
“These are enormous entities that make these pharmaceuticals, these opioid prescription pills,” he said. “It’s a complete data dump of documents to track where pills go.”
He said one issue being raised surrounds what is an “unusual amount” of opioid prescription pills sent to an area that should set off a red flag.
D’Amico said they’re also trying to spread out the labor and costs among all the entities that have filed nationwide, so everyone does their “fair share” and “no one carries the heavy load.”
He said they haven’t come to an understanding yet, and it’ll come up at the next meeting. In the meantime, he said depositions have occurred with corporate representatives of these Pharma entities.
He said these depositions will be of benefit when Pennsylvania begins its own discovery process, because they haven’t yet received and mined through all the state’s data.
D’Amico said Polster wanted to try the three bellwether cases in March and also really pushed for a settlement. Instead, the trial date was moved to this October.
He said there has been a trial in the case of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the opioid Oxycontin, in Oklahoma. He said Purdue Pharma agreed to pay out $270 million to avoid going to court.
He said Oklahoma intends to allocate $200 million to a facility to fund treatment of addiction. Then, $12.5 million will be allocated to counties and municipalities, which is now being debated.
Commissioner John A. Sobel pointed out that Clearfield County’s situation was a bit different from Oklahoma. Unlike that case, he said the commonwealth didn’t file this lawsuit, the county did.
“That’s why it was important for Clearfield County to file its own case,” D’Amico said. “So, you can control and make a decision on your own damages.”
In August of 2018, Sobel said the county has had to utilize a lot of resources resulting from the growing drug abuse problems.
He said it included the costs incurred by law enforcement officers and EMTs who respond to incidents involving those using opioids, the district attorney and public defender’s offices for crimes relating to opioid use and the county jail for not only housing the individuals, but also providing treatment for illness relating to opioid abuse.
According to the previously-published GANT News report, the county also incurs costs relating to families impacted by opioid use, such as Children, Youth and Family Services.
Back in August, Sobel said these costs unfortunately fall upon the taxpayers of Clearfield County. He said records show a spike in opioid-related deaths in Clearfield County, and expenses relating to this epidemic have also steadily increased.
Sobel said the lawsuit is specifically against eight pharmaceutical companies, seeking both punitive and compensatory damages.
The lawsuit will also ask the court to prevent the pharmaceutical companies from engaging in the promotion and sales practices, which lead to the opioid crisis.
At the previous meeting, D’Amico said there’s strong evidence that pharmaceutical companies have ignored tests showing how addictive opioid medications are and that they may have misrepresented the safety of these drugs.
According to the previous report, similar lawsuits have been filed in several other Pennsylvania counties, as well as in other states across the country.
Sobel said pharmaceutical companies are experiencing record profits relating to the sale of opioid prescription drugs, while counties such as Clearfield, are left dealing with the expenses.