The attorneys for the manufacturers of opioids have challenged the credibility of an addiction expert who testified that their client’s misleading marketing materials helped to cause the opioid epidemic that has plagued thousands of families in Long Island since the late 1990s.
The lawsuit at issue was filed in New York State Supreme Court. It alleges that drug manufacturers and distributors created a public nuisance by misleading physicians and patients with marketing that minimized the dangers and addiction risks of opioids.
State and county officials have stated that they hope to hold the drug manufacturers and distributors responsible for the death and suffering caused by the opioid epidemic and to recover hundreds of millions of dollars for treatment, recovery, and prevention.
The drug manufacturers and distributors have denied responsibility. They claim that they followed all regulations and are being blamed for the actions of health regulators who encouraged opioid use and the doctors who overprescribed them.
The case is before Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo — In re Opioid Litigation— New York Supreme Court, Suffolk County, No. 400000-2017. It will be the first case of its kind to go before jurors in the United States. This case puts the entire opioid supply chain on trial. In similar cases, only a small number of the companies that were actually sued were taken to court. Most parties reached settlements in those cases before the trials began. Hundreds of witnesses are expected to be called over the course of the trial.
Expert Witness Dr. Anna Lembke
The state and the counties retained Dr. Anna Lembke to testify as an addiction expert. Dr. Lembke is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and a physician who treats patients who are struggling with substance abuse.
Dr. Lembke testified that the drug manufacturers and distributors’ marketing materials helped to fuel the opioid epidemic. She stated that defendants Teva Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Allegan Finance, used misleading promotional materials to convince health care providers that their opioid medications were safe.
Attorneys from the drug companies attempted to discredit Dr. Lembke. Under cross-examination from Teva Pharmaceuticals attorney Harvey Bartle, Dr. Lembke admitted that she had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to appear as an expert witness for plaintiffs who have been suing opioid makers in recent years.
Bartle played a video of Dr. Lembke at a 2015 Stanford panel on opioids. During this panel, Dr. Lembke also stated that opioid prescriptions surged in the 1980s because of a “groundswell” among doctors who feared that they were not doing enough to alleviate pain. Dr. Lembke also stated that this increase in opioid prescriptions “came from a really good place” and “really needed to happen.” Dr. Lembke responded that Bartle had mischaracterized her testimony.
Under cross-examination from Jim Heirschlein, attorney for Endo Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Lembke admitted that she did not know how many physicians in Nassau and Suffolk Counties or New York State had been influenced by pharmaceutical marketing messages or how many prescriptions had been written in the states since the 1990s, when the opioid epidemic began.