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State trial over Florida opioid epidemic set for ... 2022

“The urgency of the public-health crisis demands that we move as fast as we can to get a trial,” David Frederick, one of the state’s lawyers, told the judge.

Florida’s lawsuit against drug-store chains and the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic is headed for a two-month trial in less than two years, according to a preliminary schedule laid out this week by Pasco County Circuit Judge Kimberly Byrd.

Ashley Moody’s lawyers told Byrd during a hearing that the state would be ready to start the trial by October 2021. But attorneys for the defendants — which include CVS Pharmacy Inc., Walgreen Co., numerous pharmaceutical manufacturers and drug distributers — said next year would be too soon, based on the history of other opioid-related litigation.

“We really are at square one as we sit here today,” Robert Hearn, who represents the defendants, told Byrd. The lawsuit, filed in 2018, is one of myriad legal challenges throughout the country about the devastation wrought by highly addictive pain medications.

Florida is seeking unspecified damages from the pharmacy chains and the pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. The state has produced about 8,000 documents so far, and Hearn said he expects “probably millions” more, in addition to more than 120 depositions, before the trial. Moody has pushed for a trial as soon as possible.

“The urgency of the public-health crisis demands that we move as fast as we can to get a trial,” David Frederick, one of the state’s lawyers, told the judge. Because another lengthy trial at the New Port Richey courthouse is scheduled for March 2022, Byrd slated time for the opioids trial in April and May 2022.

“We are reserving this time … and you guys are going to do everything you can to make sure that happens,” she instructed lawyers during a Tuesday hearing.

Walgreens and CVS this year tried to add 500 unnamed “John and Jane Doe” doctors as defendants in the case, alleging that physicians — and not drug stores — are to blame for faulty prescriptions.

The pharmacy chains said they were forced to file what is known as a third-party complaint against unnamed physicians because the state has not disclosed a single flawed prescription more than 18 months after the lawsuit was filed.

The judge agreed last week to a state request to drop the unidentified prescribers from the case, but she left open the possibility of adding specific doctors’ names later.

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