The fact pattern is familiar. Drug companies market a legal and regulated drug, resulting in significant overprescription of that drug. Over time, a public health crisis emerges and annual deaths number in the tens of thousands. There is strong scientific evidence linking the product in question to the public health crisis. State, local and tribal governments incur significant expenses from this crisis.

Executive Summary

Meat farms are already in the crosshairs of environmentalists because of the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions coming from livestock. And the meat production industry could very well join drug makers and even grocery stores and restaurants in a long line of possible defendants in lawsuits alleging the presence of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in the food supply. Here, Praedicat researchers review possible avenues of AMR litigation and estimate costs, which could be as high as $120 billion should lawsuits come from state attorneys general, mirroring the path of opioid litigation.

This fact pattern was present in opioids and in recent years has resulted in large-scale litigation against opioids manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The same fact pattern exists in antibiotics. Are antibiotics the next opioids?

The invention of antibiotics was world-changing and continues to be a simple, life-saving solution to infections. However, evolution began producing antibiotic-resistant bacteria as soon as antibiotics were invented. For many decades, drug companies fought evolution by regularly inventing new antibiotics to keep ahead of emerging resistance. Recently, however, drug makers have mostly ignored this threat, leading to increased resistance in the face of fewer new antibiotics.

Unsurprisingly, the cost of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) infections has been steadily mounting. The most recent CDC report on antibiotic resistance, published in 2019, estimated that 2.8 million AMR infections occur every year in the U.S. alone, and over 35,000 of those cases are fatal. A study from January 2021 in Clinical Infectious Diseases estimated the annual treatment cost of AMR infections to be $4.6 billion, with costs ranging from $31,000-$74,000 per infection.

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