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Opioid Lawsuits

Opioid lawsuits allege opioid manufacturers caused the opioid crisis through deceptive marketing practices, misrepresenting that opioids had a low risk of addiction and touting benefits without disclosing the medication’s risks. Several drug makers and distributors have agreed to billions in settlements.

The opioid crisis began in the late 1990s. It started with Purdue Pharma’s drug OxyContin. Drug companies began telling the medical community that opioid drugs had a low risk of addiction, and health care providers began prescribing them at higher rates, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In 2012, opioid prescriptions peaked at more than 255 million. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That same year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a national emergency.

While states and municipalities have filed the majority of lawsuits, some lawyers are also taking cases from individuals who suffered losses because of the opioid crisis.

Why Suits Are Being Filed

States and municipalities are filing lawsuits to recover costs associated with the opioid epidemic. Individuals and their families are filing lawsuits to recover damages caused by addiction and the loss of loved ones who overdosed.

The central claim to all opioid lawsuits is that drug manufacturers and distributors improperly marketed and distributed opioids to states, cities and towns across the United States. This improper marketing and distribution led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

“From 2000 through 2011, the number of prescriptions for the Manufacturer Defendants’ opioid drugs more than quadrupled nationwide, even though there was no scientific basis for any significant increase in opioid treatment as medically necessary or appropriate,” according to a lawsuit filed by Letitia James, attorney general for the State of New York.

Specific allegations include:
  • Manufacturers overstated the benefits and downplayed opioid addiction and other risks
  • Manufacturers aggressively marketed their products directly to physicians and by paying “key opinion leaders” to publish articles promoting opioid benefits
  • Manufacturers funded “front organizations” that published information about the benefits of opioids without warning about the risks
  • Distributors failed to monitor, investigate, detect and report suspicious orders for prescription opioids

Government Investigations

Senator Claire McCaskill of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee conducted an investigation into opioid distributors and manufacturers and released a series of reports from 2017 to 2018.

These included Fueling an Epidemic: Exposing the Financial Ties Between Opioid Manufacturers and Third Party Advocacy Groups and Fueling an Epidemic: A Flood of 1.6 Billion Doses of Opioids into Missouri and the Need for Stronger DEA Enforcement.

Some allegations in lawsuits are based on information contained in these reports.

Fueling an Epidemic: Exposing the Financial Ties Between Opioid Manufacturers and Third Party Advocacy Groups

This report exposed the millions of dollars in payments from opioid manufacturers to 14 outside groups and physicians in these groups working on chronic pain and other opioid-related issues from 2012 to 2017.

“Initiatives from the groups in this report often echoed and amplified messages favorable to increased opioid use—and ultimately, the financial interests of opioid manufacturers,” report authors wrote.

Fueling an Epidemic: A Flood of 1.6 Billion Doses of Opioids into Missouri and the Need for Stronger DEA Enforcement

This report focused on three major drug distributors — McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health — failed to properly report suspicious opioid orders in Missouri. The report found evidence that companies “knew or should have known that hundreds of millions of pills were ending up on the black market.”

Investigators found three large distributors — McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health — shipped about 1.6 billion dosage units of opioids to the state from 2012 to 2017. This equals about 52 dosages per person in Missouri.

“These ‘big three’ distributors have also consistently failed to meet their reporting obligations over the past ten years—in some cases surrendering licenses for distribution facilities and paying escalating fines after DEA and Department of Justice investigations,” report authors wrote.

Who Is Being Sued?

Companies being sued in opioid lawsuits include several manufacturers and distributors of opioid medications.

Defendants in lawsuits include:
  • Allergan
  • AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation
  • Cardinal Health Inc.
  • Costco
  • CVS
  • Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates
  • Endo International and its affiliates
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates (including its parent company Johnson & Johnson)
  • Mallinckrodt LLC and its affiliates
  • McKesson Corporation
  • Purdue Pharma and its affiliates
  • Rite-Aid Corporation
  • Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. and its affiliates; and Allergan Finance LLC and its affiliates.
  • Walgreens
  • Wal-Mart

Status of Lawsuits

Opioid litigation is ongoing, and there have been settlement agreements with several states and municipalities.

In December 2017, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized 46 actions in the Southern District of Ohio under Judge Dan A. Polster in MDL number 2804. Since then, the number of lawsuits has grown.

As of Aug. 17, 2020, 2,872 lawsuits were still pending in the MDL.

Aside from the MDL, several counties and cities have cases that remain in all 50 state courts across the country. More than 30,000 counties and cities could potentially join settlement proceedings.

Because all U.S. cities and counties are potential plaintiffs in the opioid litigation, a federal judge authorized a special kind of class called a Negotiation Class to help reach settlements that cover the entire country.
Source: Opioids Negotiation Class

Because of the size of the litigation, members of the Plaintiff’s Executive Committee (PEC) for the MDL petitioned for a new kind of class called a Negotiation Class Action in June 2019. It’s the first of its kind. All counties and cities in the MDL and out of the MDL are eligible to be a part of this class to help facilitate settlements.

The Court authorized the Negotiation Class to negotiate with 13 defendants and their affiliates in September 2019. But this class does not apply to non-county or city plaintiffs, such as Indian Tribes or individuals. The class will last until September 2024.

Government Settlements

Drug companies and distributors have agreed to billions in settlements to the Department of Justice, states and municipalities.

One of the first settlements came in 2015 when Purdue Pharma agreed to pay the State of Kentucky $24 million. Kentucky’s lawsuits claimed that Purdue misled the public about the addictiveness of prescription opioids.

Since then, there have been billions in settlements.

2016 – Cardinal Health
$44 million to the United States for alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act in Maryland, Florida and New York
2017 – Cardinal Health
$20 million to the state of West Virginia for distribution of opioids in the state between 2007 and 2012
2017 – Costco Wholesale
$11.75 million to the United States for allegations it violated the Controlled Substances Act
2017 – Mallinckrodt (MNK)
$35 million to the United States to resolve allegations of improper reporting of suspicious orders of controlled substances
2017 – McKesson
$150 million to the United States for failure to report suspicious orders of pharmaceuticals in Colorado, Ohio, Michigan and Florida
2019 – Johnson & Johnson
$572 million to the state of Oklahoma for causing the opioid crisis in the state
2019 – Purdue
$12 billion to several state and local governments including $3 billion from the Sackler family, the drug company’s founders
2019 - McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Teva Pharmaceuticals
$260 million to Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Ohio
2020 - Mallinckrodt (MNK)
$1.6 billion to several states and municipalities in the MDL
Opioids spilling out of pill bottle
Opioid Lawsuit Facts
  1. Claims in Lawsuits Opioid manufacturers misrepresented the risks of opioid addiction and promoted the benefits of opioids
  2. Defendants Opioid distributors and makers including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt (MNK) and AmerisourceBergen
  3. Largest Settlement $12 billion settlement from Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin
  4. Status of Lawsuits Ongoing

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

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Michelle Llamas, Senior Content Writer
Written By Michelle Llamas Senior Writer

Michelle Llamas has been writing articles and producing podcasts about drugs, medical devices and the FDA for nearly a decade. She focuses on various medical conditions, health policy, COVID-19, LGBTQ health, mental health and women’s health issues. Michelle collaborates with experts, including board-certified doctors, patients and advocates, to provide trusted health information to the public. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Member of American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and former Engage Committee and Membership Committee member
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Literacy certificates
  • Original works published or cited in The Lancet, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and the Journal for Palliative Medicine
Edited By

23 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, March 5). U.S. Opioid Prescribing Rate Maps. Retrieved from
  2. Department of Justice. (2016, December 23). Cardinal Health Agrees to $44 Million Settlement for Alleged Violations of Controlled Substances Act. Retrieved
  3. Department of Justice. (2017, January 19). Costco Wholesale to Pay $11.75 Million to Settle Allegations of Lax Pharmacy Controls. Retrieved from
  4. Department of Justice. (2017, January 19). McKesson Agrees to Pay Record $150 Million Settlement for Failure to Report Suspicious Orders of Pharmaceutical Drugs. Retrieved from
  5. Eyre, Eric. (2017, November 21). 2 drug distributors to pay $36M to settle WV painkiller lawsuits. Retrieved from
  6. Florida Attorney General. (n.d.). Florida’s Opioid Lawsuit. Retrieved from$file/Complaint+summary.pdf
  7. Fortier, J. & Mann, B. (2019, August 26). Johnson & Johnson Ordered To Pay Oklahoma $572 Million In Opioid Trial. Retrieved from
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  11. In Re: National Prescription Opiates Litigation. (n.d.). Opioids Negotiation Class: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from
  12. In Re: National Prescription Opiates Litigation. (n.d.). Opioids Negotiation Class. Retrieved from
  13. Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. (2020, February). Mallinckrodt Announces Agreement in Principle for Global Opioid Settlement and Associated Debt Refinancing Activities. Retrieved from
  14. McGovern, F. et al. (2020). The Negotiation Class. Retrieved from
  15. Mulvihill, G. (2019, September 16). Purdue Pharma files for bankruptcy as part of settlement. Retrieved from
  16. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, March 27). Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved from
  17. Nocera, J. (2019, October 21). Get Real. There Will Be a Global Opioid Settlement. Retrieved from
  18. People of the States of New York vs. Purdue Pharma et al. (2019, March 28). Supplemental Summons. Retrieved from
  19. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. (2018, July 12). BREAKING: McCaskill Report Shows 1.6 Billion Opioid Doses Entered Missouri from 2012-2017. Retrieved from
  20. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (2018, July 12). Fueling an Epidemic: A Flood of 1.6 Billion Doses of Opioids into Missouri and the Need for Stronger DEA Enforcement. Retrieved from
  21. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (2018, July 12). Fueling an Epidemic: Exposing the Financial Ties Between Opioid Manufacturers and Third Party Advocacy Groups. Retrieved from
  22. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017, July 11). Mallinckrodt Agrees To Pay $35 Million Settlement. Retrieved from
  23. United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. (2020, August 17). MDL Statistics Report - Distribution of Pending MDL Dockets by District. Retrieved from
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