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(Reuters) — New York will take Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and other companies, including the nation’s largest drug distributors, to trial on Tuesday, seeking to hold them liable for fueling an opioid crisis that has caused nearly half a million U.S. deaths over a decade.
The trial in Central Islip, New York, will mark the first time claims over the national opioid abuse and overdose epidemic go before a jury.
It will pit state Attorney General Letitia James and Suffolk and Nassau Counties against drugmakers Teva, Endo International and Abbvie Inc., as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.
Another defendant in the case, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, announced on Saturday it would pay $263 million to settle and avoid the trial.
New York and the counties claim that drug companies deceptively promoted opioids as safe, and that distributors ignored red flags that they were being diverted to illegal channels.
More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed in the United States against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies over the opioid epidemic, mostly by city, county and tribal governments.
Non-jury trials are already underway in cases brought against the four drugmakers by several counties in California, and against the three distributors by a city and county in West Virginia.
The New York counties had also sued pharmacy operators Walmart Inc., Rite Aid Corp. and CVS Health Corp., but they were dropped from the trial during jury selection earlier this month. CVS said it had settled, without disclosing terms, while Walmart and Rite Aid declined to comment.
J&J and the three distributors last year proposed paying a combined $26 billion to settle all opioid claims against them nationwide, but the deal has not been finalized.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said nearly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses from 1999 to 2019.
An appeals court in Ohio ruled in favor of an employer who stopped paying for an injured worker’s opioids, applying 2019 changes to law that limits the prescribing of pain medications.