The Opioid Litigation Unicorn

31 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2019 Last revised: 15 Apr 2019

See all articles by Nicolas Terry

Nicolas Terry

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2019


This article examines the background and implications of the opioid multidistrict centralized in Cleveland. It argues that expectations for this litigation, particularly those base on parallels to the tobacco settlement of 1998, need tempering. The arguments advanced here are first, that concentrating on the MDL litigation may endorse the flawed gateway or vector analysis of the opioid overdose epidemic. Second, any compensation derived from successful prosecution of the litigation (or, more likely, its settlement), while not insignificant, is more likely to enrich the plaintiffs (politically) and their attorneys (financially) than make a major impact on the social and healthcare costs already incurred or begin to cure the adverse social determinants of health that underpin the epidemic. Third, even when measured against the flawed tobacco settlement of 1998, any settlement is unlikely to have a positive long-term impact or any major public health role after the checks have been written and cashed. Overall, the pessimistic position is taken that this “litigation unicorn” will deflect attention from the true causes of the opioid overdose epidemic (thereby averting appropriate remediation) while creating an improbable expectation that the settlement will fund either necessary treatment programs for those suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD) or their children suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

Suggested Citation

Terry, Nicolas P., The Opioid Litigation Unicorn (January 1, 2019). 70 S.C. L.Rev. 637-67 (2019), Available at SSRN:

Nicolas P. Terry (Contact Author)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

530 W. New York St
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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