Summit county executive Ilene Shapiro speaks to the media outside the U.S. Federal courthouse, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Cleveland. The nation’s three dominant drug distributors and a big drugmaker have reached a $260 million deal to settle a lawsuit related to the opioid crisis just as the first federal trial over the crisis was due to begin Monday. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Companies reach $260 million deal to settle U.S. opioids lawsuit

The drug industry is facing more than 2,600 lawsuits in the U.S.

The nation’s three biggest drug distributors and a major drugmaker reached a $260 million settlement with two Ohio counties Monday over the deadly havoc wreaked by opioids, striking a deal just hours before they were set to face a jury at the start of the first federal trial over the crisis.

The settlement means the closely watched trial will not move forward now.

The trial involved only two counties — Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Akron’s Summit County — but was seen as an important test case that could gauge the strength of the opposing sides’ arguments and prod them toward a nationwide settlement.

Across the country, the drug industry is facing more than 2,600 lawsuits brought by state and local governments seeking to hold it accountable for the crisis that has been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades. A federal judge in Ohio has been pushing the parties toward a settlement of all the lawsuits for nearly two years.

The agreement announced Monday calls for the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson to pay a combined $215 million, said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County.

Israeli-based drugmaker Teva would contribute $20 million in cash and $25 million worth of Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction.

“People can’t lose sight of the fact that the counties got a very good deal for themselves, but we also set an important national benchmark for the others,” Shkolnik said.

The deal contains no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants, said Joe Rice, a lead plaintiffs’ lawyer.

But it could turn up the pressure on all sides to work out a nationwide settlement, because every partial settlement reached reduces the amount of money the companies have available to pay other plaintiffs.

Separately, the small distributor Henry Schein also announced Monday that it is settling with Summit County for $1.25 million. The company was not named in Cuyahoga’s lawsuit.

After the new settlements and previous ones with other drugmakers, the only defendant left in the trial that had been scheduled for Monday is the pharmacy chain Walgreens. The new plan is for Walgreens and other pharmacies to go to trial within six months.

Monday’s settlement removes the risks and uncertainties involved in a trial for both sides: The counties immediately lock in money they can use to deal with the crisis, and the drug companies avoid a possible finding of wrongdoing and a huge jury verdict.

“I have to say a day in court is always a good thing, but it doesn’t always get you where you need to go, or as fast as you need to go there,” Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro said.

It also means that the evidence prepared for the trial won’t be fully aired.

Lawyers for the counties were preparing to show jurors a 1900 first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” featuring the poisonous poppy fields that put Dorothy to sleep, and a 3,000-year-old Sumerian poppy jug to show that the world has long known the dangers of opioids.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the mountain of lawsuits, has long pushed for a coast-to-coast settlement that would provide money for treatment and other expenses associated with the crisis and force the industry to change its ways.

The plaintiffs have accused the industry of aggressively marketing opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction and turning a blind eye toward suspiciously large shipments of the drugs. The industry has denied wrongdoing.

Industry CEOs and attorneys general from four states met Friday in Cleveland, where the offer on the table was a deal worth potentially $48 billion in cash and drugs to settle cases nationally.

But they couldn’t close the deal, partly because of disagreements between state and local governments over how to allocate the settlement, which would have come from the three big distributors, Teva and Johnson & Johnson.

In a statement, the attorneys general from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, which are leading those talks, said that effort will continue — and that the Ohio settlement helps.

“People in every corner of the country have been hurt by this crisis, and it is critical that settlement funds be distributed fairly across states, cities and counties and used wisely to combat the crisis,” they said.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, often cast as the biggest villain in the crisis, reached a tentative settlement last month that could be worth up to $12 billion. But half the states and hundreds of local governments oppose it. It remains to be seen whether the settlement will receive the approvals it needs.

In a statement, Walgreens noted in its defence that it distributed opioids only to its own pharmacies, something it says differentiates the company from others in the industry.

“We never sold opioid medications to pain clinics, internet pharmacies or the ‘pill mills’ that fueled the national opioid crisis,” the company said.

ALSO READ: Fewer people prescribed opioids in B.C., but other provinces lack data: doctors

ALSO READ: Canadian drug makers hit with $1.1B suit for pushing opioids despite risks

___

Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

___

Julie Carr Smyth And Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police watchdog investigating death of man in Delta

Independent Investigations Office asking for witnesses to May 29 incident at Tsawwassen ferry terminal

Love flourishes at Peace Arch Park, but COVID-19 concerns loom

South Surrey park becomes only place for international couples to meet

Human Rights Tribunal denies church’s request to toss out White Rock Pride Society’s complaint

Star of the Sea and White Rock Pride Society to go to Human Rights Tribunal hearing

UPDATE: Missing 12-year-old boy found, Surrey RCMP say

Landon Vangeel-Morgan was last seen 9:14 p.m., May 30 near 96 Avenue and 150 Street

COVID-19: Daily update on pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

Provincial Health Officer officially bans overnight kids’ camps this summer

VIDEO: Injured bald eagle rescued in B.C. First Nations community

Bird suspected injured in fight, whisked off to Coquitlam rehab

Toronto Raptors’ Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Thousands have protested Floyd’s death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States

‘I’m afraid’: Witnesses of wolf attack on senior near Prince Rupert worried about safety

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Importance of accurate, ethical reporting more critical than ever

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Most Read