State and local government leaders are nearing a deal on a potential massive settlement against drug makers, who have been accused of fueling the opioid addiction crisis that has plagued Ohio for more than a decade, sources said.
The public health crisis has cost local and state governments millions of dollars and led to a flurry of lawsuits from communities against opioid makers, distributors and suppliers.
However, state and local governments struggled to work out the best way to divide future settlements, while members of the opioid industry have worked to settle as globally as possible.
The state’s lawsuit has been pending since 2017, when then-Attorney General Mike DeWine filed against drugmakers and distributors.
The city of Dayton announced its suit in June 2017 against more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies, distributors and pain specialists. In November 2017, Butler County filed suit against 20 major drug companies and distributors. Then Montgomery County announced in February 2018 that it would sue opioid manufacturers and distributors.
These lawsuits were part of more than 2,600 federal lawsuits that were consolidated before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland. As these lawsuits have been filed, one of the most difficult questions has been how any multi-billion settlements should be fairly divided up.
This matter had appeared to be resolved when a unique “negotiating class” was certified in September, which would let every one of the roughly 30,000 local governments join together to settle with members of the opioid industry, with local governments having the option to opt out and pursue their own suits.
However, now meetings are under way in Columbus among lawyers representing Ohio’s local governments in the federal lawsuit, trying to get a “super majority” of locals to agree to a settlement proposal, sources said.
A deal could allow drug makers and distributors to strike one large settlement in Ohio, rather than hundreds of individual ones.
The lawsuits allege the pharmaceutical industry knowingly employed misleading marketing tactics and failed to track suspicious orders, which contributed to the opioid epidemic.
Local governments began filing suit in 2014 and have argued that the opioid addiction crisis overloaded first responders, local clinics and jails, the child welfare system and the court system. Families have lost loved ones, businesses have lost employees and communities have spent millions of dollars trying to fend of the devastating public-health crisis.
These settlements are local and state governments’ big chance to recoup some of those massive costs.
In 2018, 3,764 Ohioans died of unintentional drug overdoses, a decrease of 1,090 compared to 2017 and the lowest number of deaths since 2015, according to state health data.
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