$260 million deal averts 1st federal trial on opioid crisis

$260 million deal averts 1st federal trial on opioid crisis

CLEVELAND — The nation’s three biggest drug distributors and a major drugmaker agreed to an 11th-hour, $260 million settlement Monday over the terrible toll taken by opioids in two Ohio counties, averting the first federal trial over the crisis.

Across the U.S., the pharmaceutical industry still faces more than 2,600 other lawsuits over the deadly disaster. Participants in those cases said Monday’s deal buys them time to try to work out a nationwide settlement of all claims.

Later in the day, a group of four state attorneys general laid out what they called a national agreement in principle with five companies. But a lawyer for local governments suing over opioids dismissed it as something that had already been rejected.

The narrower settlement that was reached Monday was struck in the middle of the night, just hours before a jury that was selected last week was scheduled to hear opening arguments in a trial in federal court in Cleveland.

The trial involved only two counties — Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Akron’s Summit County — but was seen as an important test case that could have gauged the strength of the opposing sides’ arguments and prodded them toward a nationwide resolution of all claims.

Under the settlement, drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson will pay a combined $215 million, said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County. Israeli-based drugmaker Teva will contribute $20 million in cash and $25 million worth of generic 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 deal contains no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants, said Joe Rice, a lead plaintiffs’ lawyer.

But it could turn up the pressure on all sides to work out a nationwide deal, because every partial settlement reached reduces the amount of money the companies have available to pay other plaintiffs.

Across the country, drug manufacturers, suppliers and sellers face a barrage of lawsuits brought by state and local governments, Native American tribes, hospitals and others over the opioid crisis, which is blamed for more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. over two decades. For nearly two years, a federal judge in Ohio has been pushing the parties toward a settlement of all the lawsuits.

Separately, the small distributor Henry Schein also announced Monday that it is settling with Summit County for $1.25 million. The company was not named in Cuyahoga’s lawsuit.

The only defendant left in the trial that had been scheduled for Monday is the drugstore chain Walgreens. The new plan is for Walgreens and other pharmacies to go to trial within six months.

The settlement enables both sides to avoid the risks and uncertainties involved in a trial: The counties immediately lock in money they can use to deal with the crisis, and the drug companies avoid a possible finding of wrongdoing and a huge jury verdict.

“There’s no amount of money that’s going to change the devastation and destruction that they’ve done to families not only all across our county but all across the country,” said Travis Bornstein, who was preparing to testify in the Cleveland trial. But he said the settlement should help provide services for people who are struggling.

Bornstein said his son, Tyler, became hooked on opioids as a teenager after receiving a prescription following surgery on his arm. He died of a heroin overdose five years later, in 2014.

Better funding for treatment programs might have helped his son, who was on a waiting list when he died, Bornstein said.

Ohio in 2017 had the second-highest death rate from drug overdoses in the U.S., behind only West Virginia.

In a statement, the three major distributors said the settlement money should be used on such things as treatment, rehab and mental health services.

The settlement also means that the evidence prepared for the trial won’t be fully aired.

Lawyers for the counties were preparing to show the jury a 1900 first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” featuring the poppy fields that put Dorothy to sleep, and a 3,000-year-old Sumerian poppy jug to show that the world has long known the dangers of opioids.

Those suing the industry have accused it of aggressively marketing opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction and turning a blind eye toward suspiciously large shipments of the drugs. The industry has denied wrongdoing.

Industry CEOs and attorneys general from four states met Friday in Cleveland, where the offer on the table was a deal worth potentially $48 billion in cash and addiction-treatment drugs to settle cases nationally.

Those attorney generals reiterated the offer on Monday, saying it would get money where it’s needed quickly. They said they hope other states and local governments sign on.

But Paul Hanly, one of the lead lawyers for the local governments, said the companies should be forced to pay more. “It’s a little bizarre, frankly, that they came back with the same deal,” he said.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, often cast as the biggest villain in the crisis, reached a tentative settlement last month that could be worth up to $12 billion. But half the states and hundreds of local governments oppose it. It remains to be seen whether the settlement will receive the approvals it needs.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Alberta government makes request to Canadian Red Cross for field hospitals

The Alberta Government has examined the possibility of needing help from the… Continue reading

Workers were busy getting a tall crane in place Thursday morning for the construction of the new courthouse in downtown Red Deer. The facility will include modern technology and replace the existing courthouse upon completion expected in spring 2023. Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
Work on Red Deer Justice Centre progressing

Construction of the new courthouse in downtown Red Deer was visible Thursday… Continue reading

The City of Red Deer is including $1 million in its 2021 operating budget, just in case Westerner Park’s pandemic cancellations continue and it needs more support next year. (Advocate file photo)
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance responds to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. Vance is ordering his troops to be ready to pick up COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and Europe on short notice, and prepare to help distribute the doses while responding to floods and other emergencies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence chief says CAF will be ready after ordering COVID-19 vaccine prep last week

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces received formal orders last week to… Continue reading

Geoff Neville poses for a photo with his sons Casey, 3, left, and Ryder, 6, in this undated handout photo. Geoff Neville is a rotational worker in Newfoundland and Labrador who works in a mine in Nunavut for 14 days in a row and then gets 14 days off to come home and see his family. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Geoff Neville
‘I’d love to be home:’ N.L. rotational workers facing bullying online

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — As Geoff Neville waited this week in a… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Defence lawyer Boris Bytensky, clockwise from top left, father of the accused Vahe Minassian, Justice Anne Malloy, and defendant Alek Minassian are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference, in this courtroom sketch on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The key witness for the defence in Toronto’s van attack trial is set to testify for the fourth straight day today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Key witness for defence to testify for fourth day in van attack trial

TORONTO — The key witness for the defence in Toronto’s van attack… Continue reading

People take part in a protest called ‘Justice for Joyce’ in Montreal, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, where they demanded justice for Joyce Echaquan and an end to systemic racism. Two months after Echaquan’s death at a Joliette hospital, the head of the regional health authority that runs the hospital, Daniel Castonguay, has been removed from his post. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Head of regional health authority where Indigenous woman died removed from post

MONTREAL — Two months after the death of Joyce Echaquan in a… Continue reading

Signage for the Distress Centre in Calgary, Alta., is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Distress Centre Calgary says suicide-related calls, texts and chats were up 66 per cent in October compared with the same month in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Dealing with a lot:’ Suicide crisis calls mount during COVID-19 pandemic

CALGARY — Hannah Storrs has needed to take more breaks than usual… Continue reading

Nancy McInerney, Kevin Martin, Olds Mayor Michael Muzychka, Chelsea Carey and MLA Nathan Cooper pose for a photo during the ticket launch for the Grand Slam of Curling Champions Cup in Olds from April 29 to May 3 in October. The event has been rescheduled for 2022. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Olds misses out on Champions Cup again, event penciled in to return in 2022

They say waiting is the hardest part for curling fans in Central… Continue reading

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Mikael Kingsbury, of Canada, trains during the FIS Freestyle World Cup skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Park City, Utah. Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first time in his World Cup career after suffering a back injury in training on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Swinger
Canadian moguls star Mikael Kingsbury out four to six weeks with back injury

MONTREAL — Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first… Continue reading

Detail of James Wilson Morrice's "LaPlage."
James Wilson Morrice canvas outperforms at auction with more than million-dollar sale

A canvas by Montreal-born artist James Wilson Morrice exceeded expectations with a… Continue reading

Most Read