Law & Courts

The List of Districts Suing Opioid Companies Is Growing. Do They Stand a Chance?

By Mark Lieberman — July 06, 2021 2 min read
Pharmaceuticals are seen in North Andover, Mass. on June 15, 2018.
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More than 80 school districts in 16 states are suing opioid manufacturers and distributors like Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, hoping to get the companies to help pay for the costs of educating and supporting children affected by the ongoing addiction crisis.

Lawyers have said in court filings that they believe school districts nationwide have spent at least $127 billion—and likely much more—on services to address the opioid crisis, which has risen to national prominence in the last decade.

We’ve assembled a database with every school district that is involved in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Participating districts enroll close to 1.6 million students.

District leaders say they’ve seen an increase in students with disabilities brought on by their mothers’ opioid use during pregnancy, as well as an increase in students with behavioral and attendance issues who experienced family trauma as a result of relatives who were addicted to drugs or arrested for possessing them.

The class-action lawsuit, filed last December in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, includes numerous districts in Illinois, Kentucky, Maine and West Virginia, as well as a handful each in California, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, New York, and Texas, according to an updated list provided last week to Education Week by attorneys representing districts in the ongoing litigation.

If your school district is participating and isn’t among the 86 mentioned, please get in touch: mlieberman@educationweek.org.

On a separate track, hundreds of school districts have thrown their hat in the ring to get a small piece of the settlement funds from a bankruptcy case from individuals and governments against drug company Purdue Pharma. The Rochester district in New York voted last month to authorize participation in a settlement agreement, according to a report in the Democrat and Chronicle.

The extent to which schools will be compensated from those proceedings remains to be seen.

In the meantime, please take a few minutes to read this article I wrote last month about the steep challenges schools have faced trying to help students for whom the opioid crisis has touched their lives.

Some districts have had to dramatically expand mental health counseling services. Many have seen exponential increases in the number of students with disabilities, and administrators believe opioid use is among the factors contributing to the increase.

The addiction crisis does not appear likely to abate anytime soon, either. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have coincided with a nationwide increase in substance abuse.

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Education Week Library Staff contributed to this article.

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