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A drug manufacturer that distributed addictive pills throughout New York is liable for contributing to the opioid epidemic, a Long Island jury ruled Thursday, issuing a landmark verdict with implications for thousands of lawsuits across the country.
Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals and a handful of its subsidiary companies were found liable for perpetuating a “public nuisance” — a legal term that belies the deadly consequences of the opioid crisis detailed during a a a six-month trial in Suffolk County.
Another trial will be held to determine how much Teva and others will be required to pay.
“This is a significant day for New York state,” state Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “This is a significant day for this nation. But, more importantly, this is a significant day for every family and community torn apart by opioids. A jury has found an opioid manufacturer responsible for the death and destruction they inflicted on the American people.”
James sued opioid manufactures and distributors in 2019, arguing that they downplayed the risks of opioid addiction and dodged regulations meant to limit orders of painkillers in order to maximize profits.
The AG said she’s already secured up to $1.5 billion from different opioid manufacturers and distributors, which will go toward addiction treatment, prevention programs and other efforts in New York communities hit hard by the opioid crisis.
The addiction epidemic is linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. in the past two decades.
When the trial began, court officials struggled to find a Long Island venue big enough to hold all the defendants and their legal teams and considered using the auditorium of a local law school as a courtroom.
Teva, in a statement, said it will appeal the ruling and seek a mistrial.
“The plaintiffs presented no evidence of medically unnecessary prescriptions, suspicious or diverted orders, no evidence of oversupply by the defendants — or any indication of what volumes were appropriate — and no causal relationship between Teva’s conduct including its marketing and any harm to the public in the state,” the company statement said.
James said the legal fight was personal.
“Today, I am left thinking about all those families that will never be whole again,” James said. “For everyone who lost their life. For every parent who will never hold their child again. For every community that’s been devastated. But, today, we took a significant step in righting the wrongs this country has collectively experienced over the last two decades.”