Legal efforts to address the ongoing opioid crisis have been ramping up across the nation. Most notably, a federal court is set to hear a massive case against a number of big players in the pharmaceutical industry.

An issue in the hearing will be determining to what extent pharmaceutical companies can be held responsible for pushing and selling opioids. Additionally, the federal court is also set to consider any penalties these companies may face.

As this potentially landmark federal case draws nearer, several of the defendants requested that the judge set to hear the case recuse himself. Now, that judge has indicated that he will not remove himself. Instead, the case will proceed as planned.

A Landmark Case Against Big Pharma

The case in question is scheduled to begin next month, on October 21. Importantly, this will be the first time a federal court has heard a case from government players against pharmaceutical companies involved in the opioid market.

Plaintiffs in the case are going after the companies that make, distribute, and sell opioids. Specifically, the primary argument is that these companies should be held responsible, at least in part, for the deaths and health problems caused by opioids.

In the lead up to the case, some companies have opted to settle before going to court. Specifically, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has already reached a settlement.

Currently, the companies facing challenges in the court include:

  • Johnson & Johnson
  • several Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries
  • Activas and other companies owned by Teva
  • AmerisourceBergen, a distributor
  • Cardinal Health
  • Henry Schein and McKesson
  • Walgreens

While the October hearing is the first of its kind, there are already numerous similar proceedings underway around the country. Specifically, the Washington Post reports that there are at least 2,600 claims being filed against opioid companies.

These claims are being filed by a number of entities including state, local, and tribal governments. Additionally, some claims are also being filed by legal representatives of babies born with opioid withdrawals, as well as numerous other victims.

Judge Dan Polster Will Not Recuse Himself

As the October 21 date draws nearer, a group of defendants tried to get U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster removed from the case.

The companies claimed that Polster is not an impartial judge. As evidence, they pointed to statements the judge has made about the opioid crisis. Ultimately, these companies argued that Polster has shown an “unusual level of commitment” to helping victims.

However, Polster disagrees with these claims. So much so, in fact, that he has now officially refused to remove himself. For his part, Polster told the media that instead of being biased, he is simply being honest in his assessment of the harm caused by opioids.

“Acknowledging the immense scope of the opioid crisis, and calling on all entities who have the power to ameliorate it to join me in doing so without delay, does not reflect any bias or prejudice toward any party to the litigation,” he wrote in a statement to the Washington Post.

He added: “Publicly acknowledging this human toll does not suggest I am biased; it shows that I am human.”

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