Federal judge in national prescription opiate litigation commits to solving crisis in 2018

Updated: Jan. 11, 2018 at 6:54 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, OH (WECT) - In the first hearing on a federal lawsuit filed by New Hanover County and hundreds of other communities across the nation struck by the opioid epidemic, hundreds packed a courtroom in Cleveland earlier this week.

In the transcript of the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Dan A. Polster expressed a commitment to solving the crisis this year.

New Hanover County has experienced a 1,500 percent increase in opioid-related deaths since 1999. Some have called Wilmington "ground zero" in the epidemic.

New Hanover County filed a federal lawsuit in December against several drug manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue Pharma and Cardinal Health.

"What's happening in our country with the opioid crisis is present and ongoing. I did a little math. Since we're losing more than 50,000 of our citizens every year, about 150 Americans are going to die today, just today, while we're meeting. And in my humble opinion, everyone shares some of the responsibility, and no one has done enough to abate it. That includes the manufacturers, the distributors, the pharmacies, the doctors, the federal government and state government, local governments, hospitals, third-party payors, and individuals. Just about everyone we've got on both sides of the equation in this case. The federal court is probably the least likely branch of government to try and tackle this, but candidly, the other branches of government, federal and state, have punted. So it's here. So my objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018." - Judge Polster

An attorney for Purdue, Mark Cheffo, stated the drugmakers acknowledge there are "issues in this country."

"I think we all, to the extent that we can, want to be part of the solution and work with Your Honor in trying to hear about some of the ways that we might move forward," Cheffo told the judge.

"With all of these smart people here and their clients, I'm confident we can do something to dramatically reduce the number of opioids that are being disseminated, manufactured, and distributed," Polster said. "Because sadly, every day more and more people are being addicted, and they need treatment."

New Hanover County's case is one of more than 200 lawsuits filed by cities, counties and others over the opioid crisis. Polster is overseeing all of those cases.

Polster also expressed concern about the opioid epidemic's impact on American life expectancy, which has decreased for the second year in a row.

"And this is 100 percent manmade. Now, I'm pretty ashamed that this has occurred while I've been around. So I think we all should be." - Judge Polster

The hearing marks a first step in the legal proceedings.

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