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Trumbull to join as plaintiff in opioid lawsuit

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that Trumbull County should be a plaintiff in a test case to be tried in U.S. District Court next year.

The ruling also added Lake County to the growing list of trials seeking to hold the drug industry liable for the U.S. opioid epidemic.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster ruled the case that now includes Trumbull County’s claims will be tried in May 2021 in his Cleveland courtroom.

At issue will be both pharmacy chains’ roles in distributing powerful prescription painkillers to their own stores and dispensing them to patients.

Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said the judge’s decision brings hope for a chance to hold defendants responsible.

“For many years, we have seen and heard about the devastating impact the opioid epidemic has had and continues to have on Trumbull County,” Cantalamessa said Thursday. “Today’s news from the court brings hope to our community and provides us an opportunity to hold defendants responsible for the harms we believe they have caused.”

Both pharmacy roles were set to be included in a trial scheduled for November 2020 regarding claims from two other Ohio counties — Cuyahoga and Summit. But an appeals court sided with pharmacy chains and found Polster improperly included the drug dispensing role in that one.

Polster responded by adding that the companies will face an additional trial with a broader range of claims. It’s not certain yet which companies would be defendants, but those involved in the suits so far are CVS, Discount Drug Mart, Giant Eagle, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart.

Prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin and illicit versions such as heroin and illegally produced fentanyl have been linked to more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000.

So far, there has been just one trial in the U.S. to test the liability of the drug industry for the epidemic. In that one, a judge last year ruled Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries had to pay the state of Oklahoma $465 million. The company is appealing.

Companies have settled other claims before they reached trial, including one that was scheduled before Polster last year.

The next trial in line could be a case in New York state case that was scheduled to start this month but was delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak. A federal trial also is scheduled for August on claims from local governments in West Virginia.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and generic drugmaker Mallinckrodt are in bankruptcy proceedings as efforts to settle lawsuits they’re facing.

Other companies, including the nation’s three largest drug distribution companies, also have been negotiating nationwide settlements.

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