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Plaintiffs Lose In First Trial Of Individual Opioid Victims

Over the past month in a Georgia courtroom, three generations of families testified on how their lives had been savaged by addiction to prescription opioids: A young man recounted huddling in a locked room with his brothers, while his father, waving a shotgun, ransacked the house for pills. A mother told of holding her granddaughter, while her dopesick daughter rammed a car into the house. A young woman told of her rape at age 14 by a drug dealer. Overdose deaths involved grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses. It was the first lawsuit to come to trial brought by individual victims of the opioid epidemic against pharmaceutical companies. On Wednesday afternoon, the victims lost, the New York Times reports. After deliberating for a day and a half, the jury found that the companies — two large medical distributors, McKesson and Cardinal Health, and a third regional one — were not liable. The plaintiffs — 21 relatives from six families — had filed suit under a state law that permits relatives of people addicted to drugs to sue drug dealers.

The pharmaceutical industry has committed more than $50 billion so far to settle lawsuits over its role in the opioid epidemic, but the families of people who died or who still struggle with addiction have got almost none of it. The money pledged by manufacturers like Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, distributors (AmerisourceBergen as well as McKesson and Cardinal) and national pharmacy chains (like CVS and Walgreens) is earmarked for prevention and treatment programs in the states, municipalities and tribes that filed thousands of opioid-related cases. “It has been so hard to explain to families over the years why a lawsuit against the manufacturers, never mind distributors, is so difficult to win,” said Jayne Conroy, a lawyer who reached a settlement with Purdue Pharma in 2007 for 5,000 people who took OxyContin as prescribed but became addicted. The Georgia trial provided a brutal and intimate picture of how prescription opioids — and eventually, heroin, meth and fentanyl — crushed entire households. The case showed how challenging it is to draw a direct line between a company in a complex distribution chain and the misfortunes of individual people.

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