CLEVELAND: Four large drug companies reached a last-minute $260 million legal settlement over their role in the US opioid addiction epidemic, striking a deal with two Ohio counties to avert the first federal trial over the crisis.
Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp will contribute $215m towards the settlement, according to Hunter Shkolnik, an attorney for the counties.
Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is paying $20m in cash and will contribute $25m worth of Suboxone, an opioid addiction treatment, according to Shkolnik.
The deal settles claims brought by Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties, which had accused the companies of fuelling a nationwide opioid crisis. Some 400,000 US overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017 were linked to opioids, according to government data.
The trial was to be a so-called bellwether, or test trial, that was meant to help shape a broader settlement of some 2,600 lawsuits pending over the toll opioids have taken on local communities and the nation.
Late on Friday, talks collapsed that were aimed at reaching a $48 billion global settlement of all opioid litigation against the same defendants.
The judge overseeing the Ohio case, Dan Polster, urged the parties to continue to work towards a broader deal.
“I did not encourage a settlement of this case only,” Polster said in court.
Lawyers representing the local governments said in a statement that the litigation had revealed the country’s pharmacy system “has played a greater role in the opioid epidemic than previously realised”.
The lawsuits accuse drug makers of overstating the benefits of opioids while downplaying the risks. Distributors allegedly failed to flag and halt a rising tide of suspicious orders, shipping vast amounts of the pills across the country.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2019