Today was meant to mark the beginning of the heavily-anticipated federal opioid trials taking place in Cleveland, Ohio. Instead, both parties reached a last minute settlement. The 11th-hour deal was negotiated between two Ohio counties and three of the biggest U.S. drug distributors as well as a drug manufacturer.
Rather than face a jury trial, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal, and McKesson agreed to pay $215 million to Summit and Cuyahoga counties. Meanwhile, drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals, pledged to pay $20 million in cash and $25 million in addiction treatment and overdose drugs to the Ohio counties. The deal did not require any admission of guilt by any of the companies. Henry Schein Medical, a NY-based pharmaceutical company and another defendant in the case, reached a separate $1.25 million agreement with the counties, and according to the Washington Post, Walgreens’ case has been postponed. Unlike the pharmaceutical companies, the drugstore chain didn’t create or market the opioid medications. Rather, the company is being held accountable for not monitoring and properly regulating suspicious prescription orders of the medications, which was reported by the New York Times back in July of this year.
“While this morning’s trial will not begin as scheduled, the federal opioid MDL continues to move forward, as thousands of American communities still have claims against opioid industry defendants,” said the Plaintiff’s Executive Committee in a statement released today. The committee consists of the attorneys overseeing the consolidated federal case.
The trials, known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, includes almost 3,000 lawsuits from every rank of government including cities, counties, and Native American tribes. Defendants span the chain of opioid drug production from distributors such as CVS, to pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson, all the way down to individual doctors. Plaintiffs claim that defendants were aware of the risks associated with opioids, but continued to market, sell, and to prescribe the addictive medications.
The lawsuits are in response to the national opioid epidemic—a public health crisis in which over 218,000 American have died from overdose due to prescription opioids since 1997. This number does not include non-prescription narcotics such as heroin in fentanyl that many prescription opioid users turn to. These synthetic drugs are responsible for thousands of more overdoses.