Major drug companies reached a late-breaking settlement with two Ohio counties over their alleged role in the opioid epidemic hours before the first federal trial was set to begin today.
Three firms that distribute most of the U.S. drug supply — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — as well as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Walgreens will avoid the high-profile trial, which had been seen as a bellwether for how the courts will treat thousands of similar lawsuits from cities, states, hospitals and Native American tribes. However, the settlement does not resolve those remaining lawsuits, many of which are being overseen by a federal judge in Cleveland.
“Thousands of American communities still have claims against opioid industry defendants,” attorneys representing the localities said in a statement.
The settlement with Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties is for $260 million. The details are expected to be announced Monday afternoon.
U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster, who is supervising most of the consolidated litigation, announced from the bench Monday morning that the trial will not move forward, a court representative confirmed.
Walgreens, the major drug retailer, is the only company that has not yet settled with the two counties. A small medical supply company that was also named in the counties' lawsuit this morning said it had agreed to pay a $1.25 million settlement.
Plaintiff attorneys are keeping their thoughts about a broader settlement close to the vest, saying only that talks are ongoing “to achieve a global resolution that will provide resources to abate the epidemic nationwide.” State attorneys general have been pushing for a megadeal with the drugmakers.
Attorneys general for North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Texas, who are leading the state-level negotiations, characterized Monday’s deal as a “critical step” but urged a broader deal to give states, cities and counties their equitable share of funds to deploy against the opioid epidemic.
“The global resolution we are working to finalize will accomplish those goals while also ensuring that these companies change their business practices to prevent a public health crisis like this from ever happening again,” the attorneys general said in a statement.
But a major deadline looming next month could further delay this kind of resolution. The courts have said about 30,000 additional municipalities are entitled to share in any global settlement as long as they don’t file individual lawsuits. They last date to drop out of the broad negotiation class is Nov. 22.
Polster told the court Monday that he will continue collecting documents and depositions and set a new trial date for Walgreens, the last defendant remaining in this case.