This month, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigiation is set to review an application asking to consolidate and centralize a number of fentanyl pain patch product liability lawsuits. There are currently 26 federal level lawsuits regarding fentanyl patches, all filed against Watson Pharmaceuticals. Watson is a maker of generic fentanyl pain patches.
The Watson design use what is called a ‘reservoir’ system, which employs a layer of fentanyl gel between the patch backing and the adhesive. The patches are designed to be applied directly to the skin to allow the fentanyl to seep into the affected area in a controlled and steady manner. A high level of control is necessary, because fentanyl is many times stronger than morphine.
It is the reservoir effect that has lead to the current 26 cases of litigation, however. This design has been alleged to allow too much fentanyl to get into contact with the skin, increasing the amount that is released into the body to dangerous levels. This has prompted claims of a number of adverse reactions, up to and including death from overdose. Overdosing on opioids like fentanyl can induce depression of the central nervous system and the cardiorespiratory systems. This can cause death through suffocation.
Plaintiffs in the case are asserting that Watson knew of an alternative to reservoir designs, called the matrix system. In a matrix, the fentanyl is suspended in the adhesive. The adhesive itself slows down the administration of the drug to the user, allowing for a more controlled and hence safer experience using the drug.
Watson has commented that it would like two other fentanyl makers, one of which uses reservoir designs and the other matrix designs, to join in the multi-district litigation to provide additional testimony. Consolidating the cases will allow for a single, consistent decision rather than a series of duplicated efforts.