Attorney Mark Lanier gets a hug 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.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak

$260M settlement reached in bellwether Ohio opioid lawsuit

National case that involves Dayton and Montgomery County still pending.

The nation’s three biggest drug distributors and a major drug maker reached a $260 million settlement with Cuyahoga and Summit counties over the deadly havoc tied to opioids.

While the national case still is pending that involves thousands of local governments — including Dayton and Montgomery County — every city, township and county across the U.S. could see money from a nationwide settlement that’s under negotiation.

The settlement with Cuyahoga and Summit counties came just hours before the first federal trial over the crisis was about to begin Monday.

The trial involving Cuyahoga and Summit counties was seen as an important test case that could gauge the strength of the opposing sides’ arguments and prod them toward a nationwide settlement.

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

Israeli-based drug maker 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 full national case that involves thousands of cities, including Dayton, still moves forward, with the next tier of defendants preparing to go to trial in Huntington and Cabell counties in West Virginia.

Cuyahoga and Summit counties also still have pending litigation against Walgreens, which severed its case from the other defendants.

“Through the discovery process, we learned that this country’s pharmacy system has played a greater role in the opioid epidemic than previously realized,” a statement from the plaintiff’s executive committee said. “Cuyahoga and Summit will continue to litigate against pharmacy defendants to further understand the industry’s failings and potential wrongdoing.

The committee is made up of lawyers representing the thousands of cities and counties who sued drug makers and distributors in the first of its kind “negotiation class.” 

“On behalf of the more than 2,700 American communities we represent, the (multidefendent litigation) leadership continues discussions to achieve a global resolution that will provide resources to abate the epidemic nationwide,” the committee’s statement said.

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.

Industry CEOs and attorneys general from four states met Friday in a daylong session in Cleveland, where the offer in place was a deal worth potentially $48 billion in cash and treatment drugs over time 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 state 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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