U.S. judge expresses support for novel opioid settlement talks framework
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[August 07, 2019]
By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday
expressed support for a novel plan by lawyers representing cities and
counties suing drug companies over the U.S. opioid epidemic that would
bring every community nationally into their settlement talks despite
objections from most states.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster during a hearing in Cleveland, Ohio said
that while the idea was unprecedented, it could allow companies accused
of fueling the epidemic in nearly 2,000 lawsuits before him an ability
to obtain "global peace."
"There has to be some vehicle to resolve these lawsuits," said Polster,
who added he planned to rule quickly.
The proposal calls for creating a class of up to 3,000 counties and
30,000 cities, towns and villages that could vote on whether to accept
any settlement the plaintiffs reach with defendants in the opioid
Attorneys general from 37 states and the District of Columbia pursuing
related cases and probes have objected, saying the plan would likely
face future court challenges that could derail all settlement efforts.
Paul Singer, a lawyer with the Texas Office of the Attorney General,
said the plan also interfered with the states' ability to decide how
money is spent within their borders by setting a formula for allocating
settlement funds among local governments.
Polster said he believed the allocation system a strength of the
proposal as it "gets the money to where the harm is" to help address the
opioid epidemic's effects in communities nationally.
Opioids were involved in 400,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thousands of lawsuits by states and local governments have accused
drugmakers like OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma of downplaying the risks
of opioids in their marketing, and accuse drug distributors of failing
to halt suspicious opioid orders.
[to top of second column]
Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin pills, made by Purdue
Pharma sit on a counter at a local pharmacy in Provo, Utah, U.S.,
April 25, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo
Most of the localities' lawsuits are before Polster, who has pushed
for a settlement before an October trial. Plaintiffs have claimed it
could cost about $480 billion to address the epidemic.
State attorneys general are pursuing their own cases in state courts
as well investigations and settlement talks, which Singer called
Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the matter, on Tuesday
reported drug distributors McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and
AmerisourceBergen Corp had proposed paying $10 billion to resolve
the states' claims.
The states have proposed the distributors pay $45 billion, a person
familiar with the matter told Reuters. Those companies oppose the
plan Polster is considering.
McKesson said it "has made no settlement offers." AmerisourceBergen
said it is vigorously defending itself, while Cardinal declined to
comment. Shares of all three were down about 6% on an up day for the
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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