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Overdoses rise over the weekend; Delaware's case against Big Pharma to remain in state court

Delaware Public Media

Last week a federal judge ruled Delaware’s lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry for its role in the opioid crisis will remain in state court, soon to follow was a weekend spike of overdose deaths in the First State.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Andrews ruled against a request from Big Pharma to move Delaware’s lawsuit to federal court. The ruling came days before a weekend of 40 non-fatal overdoses and seven overdose deaths in the state.

John Culhane is a Distinguished Professor of Law at Delaware Law School and Co-Director at the Family Health Law and Policy Institute. He says while the toll the opioid crisis takes locally does not affect the legal aspects of the case, it could sway the minds of jury members, who are now sure to be Delawareans—if the case goes to trial.

“Sure, it affects people in the way they think about this, and if you’re on a jury and you see all these people—and it’s going to become increasingly likely for people to know someone who has been a victim of this—so, I think it affects it more in that sense than in any strict legal sense,” said Culhane.

He adds the choice of venue is a win for Delaware, because at the federal level its case may have been consolidated with similar claims from other states.

“So in doing it in a local forum is usually better for the plaintiffs where you have local victims, and perhaps a jury more sympathetic,” he said.

Delaware’s suit against Big Pharma alleges consumer fraud and negligence in the over-prescription of opioids to Delawareans. The list of defendants includes drug manufacturers, distributors and drugstores.

While the state’s case may refer to the federal Controlled Substances Act, Judge Andrews ruled it is still a state matter and not under federal jurisdiction.

In the wake of this past weekends overdoses, Delaware Department of Health and Social Services spokeswoman Jill Fredel says every death concerns DHSS.

"Our greatest concern is to get people connected to treatment," said Fredel.

People seeking treatment for opioid addiction in Delaware can visit the "Help is Here" website.

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