One Federal Judge from Ohio Takes on Big Pharma

Ohio, Columbus courthouse

All across the nation, our country has experienced increasing drug problems and addiction issues. But even though the entire nation as a whole has experienced growing drug problems and issues, the entire nation has not experienced this crisis equally. The State of Ohio has been all but overwhelmed by 21st-century drug addiction issues such as crime, addiction, overdose, and other types of losses.

Judge Dan Polster, representing the Northern District of Ohio, has taken it upon himself to hold accountable the central figures of the national opioid epidemic. He’s doing this partly because it is the right thing to do and someone needs to do it, but he’s also doing it because Ohio, in particular, was all but decimated by the opioid crisis.

Few judges have been able to hold pharmaceutical giants accountable in the past, but Polster plans to break that record with the single biggest legal, health-related case of the century, and he plans to do it all with total fairness towards both sides. Rather than the traditional, “Is Big Pharma in the wrong or not” case, he plans, instead, to make the issue “We already know Big Pharma is in the wrong, now how can we all work together to fix it?”

Judge Dan Polster Takes on the Case of the Century

Every time a fair degree of investigation is brought against the pharmaceutical industry (this has happened dozens of times in the last few years), defendants involved in the case always attempt to shift the blame to another sector of the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical manufacturers blame distributors. Pharmaceutical distributors blame pharmacies and doctors. Pharmacies blame doctors and the simple demand for the drugs. Doctors blame the patients. Patients blame the doctors.

The cycle continues, and nothing is ever accomplished. A pharmaceutical manufacturer or distributor might receive a fine, but no actual change occurs.

Pill covering dollars

Judge Polster’s case includes more than four hundred individual cases against pharmaceutical giants. No one’s getting out of this one without coming under a significant degree of inspection. In this case, huge sectors of the pharmaceutical magnate will come under inspection. Some examples of what will be looked at are:

  • How companies like Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, set about aggressively marketing their pills for years, even though they knew about the pills’ addictive properties.
  • How distributors like McKesson and Cardinal Health set about shipping massive quantities of medicines to rural areas that had no legitimate need for such quantities, all without reporting those orders to the authorities.
  • How pharmacy corporations like Walgreens and CVS Health simply looked away when they received and then sold alarmingly high amounts of pills to “patients.”

This is very likely the largest multi-district litigation having to do with the health of the American people that we have ever seen, and it is certainly the largest one of the century. But Dan Polster is easily the best judge for the job. Judge Polster was selected by a federal panel for a number of reasons. Right off the bat, Judge Polster works in Ohio, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.

“The stakes, in this case, are incredibly high. Any thinking person should feel terrible about the situation we’re in. The judicial branch typically doesn’t fix social problems, which is why I’m somewhat uncomfortable doing this. But it seems the most human thing to do.”

But the judge has more than four-hundred cases to go through, cases that come from all across the country. It’s going to be a challenge, to say the least. Judge Polster said in a commentary that “The stakes, in this case, are incredibly high. Any thinking person should feel terrible about the situation we’re in. The judicial branch typically doesn’t fix social problems, which is why I’m somewhat uncomfortable doing this. But it seems the most human thing to do.”

And when Judge Polster was questioned by a New York Times Reporter as to why he was trying to get both sides of the four hundred case-strong multidistrict litigation to work together, he said that “It’s almost never productive to get the other side angry. They lash out and hurt you and themselves. I try to get the sides to think it through as a problem to solve, not a fight to be won or lost.”

Clearly, Judge Polster is the one if the best men for the job that we could have asked for. But is this a job that one man can see through to the end? And on such a short time-frame of one year?

A Man for the People – Judge Dan Polster Already Creating Results

The crusade that Judge Polster is bringing to bear against those responsible for creating the opioid epidemic is a bold one indeed. But the alarming thing is, he’s already garnering results.

Judge Polster called a “closed-door summonings” of one-hundred and seventy small-town mayors, grieving victims of the opioid crisis, big-city lawyers, opinion leaders, addiction doctors, pharmacy industry executives, and a police chief. In this summoning, Judge Polster questioned everyone present, garnering information and data about the width and breadth of the four-hundred cases at hand. And just ten days after the first closed-door summoning, Purdue Pharma (whose representative was present at the summoning), announced that the pharmaceutical giant would no longer market OxyContin.

OxyContin drugs

This was a jaw-dropping turn of events. OxyContin had been Purdue Pharma’s cash cow since 1996, one of the most-sold and highest-profiting opioid pills in the history of the United States.

Some are saying that Judge Polster put the fear of God into Purdue and that Purdue is now scrambling to “Make themselves look good” in the face of the coming litigations and settlements. According to Dr. Anna Lembke, a Stanford Addiction Specialist who was present at the summonings “This is a stunning about-face by Purdue, which has long contended that it has not influenced physician education with its drug reps. I think the overwhelming pressure from Judge Polster, not to mention the court of public opinion, led to this radical reversal.”

Amazing. It’s difficult to find someone who has the charisma, the courage, and the wherewithal to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry and anyone else who helped to create the opioid epidemic that we are now embattled in and to do it all while being fair and honest, as a judge should. But it would seem from his actions thus far, his stated intentions, and his history, that Judge Dan Polster is the right man for this job. He has a challenge ahead of him, but our hearts and our hopes are with him, as is our encouragement.

As we move forward, we need to support Judge Polster and others like him, who would see the opioid epidemic reversed, and the people who started it and contributed to it brought to justice. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from opioid overdoses, and millions more are currently addicted. Opioid addiction is a plague on our society, a plague that will not be removed until those who caused it and who continue to contribute to it are brought to justice.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.