NYTimes.com, Sarah Maslin Nir, June 29, 2021
New York’s sweeping lawsuit is the first opioid case in which a jury rather than a judge will decide the outcome.
New York’s sprawling opioid trial — the first in the country that targets the entire opioid supply chain — began with opening arguments in Central Islip on Long Island on Tuesday in a case that will offer rare illumination of the machinery that helped power a drug scourge.
There was not a courtroom large enough to fit the seven defendants, including drug makers who manufacture opioids, distributors that supply the pills, their subsidiaries and their armies of lawyers. The judge is hearing the case in an auditorium at a local law school.
The trial, in which Nassau and Suffolk Counties have joined the New York State attorney general, marks the first opioid case where a jury rather than a judge will decide the outcome. Initially, the sweeping case also targeted several pharmacy chains that dispensed opioids, but in the days leading up to the trial, all were excised from the case following a flurry of settlements with New York, the details of which have not yet been finalized.
Six jurors and six alternates will hear testimony inside the auditorium at Touro College’s Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center from what is likely to be hundreds of witnesses, as prosecutors seek to prove that the industry operated as a network of profiteers who cashed in on increasing the pills flooding into New York while ignoring the human cost.
In her opening statement, Jayne Conroy, the lawyer for Suffolk County, said she would try to show how drug makers and distributors had operated in a “parallel universe” from those experiencing the ravages of opioid addiction. “Death and destruction in the communities,” Ms. Conroy said, “and the celebration of blockbuster sales and profits in the boardroom.”
Over the past two decades, overdoses of prescription and street opioids have killed 800,000 people nationwide, according to federal data.
Conspicuously absent from the makeshift courtroom was the defendant most seen by the public as culpable for the opioid epidemic — Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, which is owned by members of the billionaire Sackler family.
Purdue was initially named in the case, as were some individual Sacklers. But nearly two years ago, as Purdue faced thousands of opioid-related lawsuits, it filed for bankruptcy, a process that has paused cases against it and the Sacklers.
In addition, over the weekend, Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, which had been a defendant the case, agreed to pay more than $230 million to settle with New York. The settlement ensures the company stays out of the opioid business in the United States permanently. Full Article