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October 21, 2019

Drug companies reach last-minute settlement with Ohio counties in 'bellwether' opioid lawsuit

Daily Briefing

    Two Ohio counties reached a $260 million settlement early Monday with three of the largest U.S. drug distributors and a drugmaker over their alleged role in fueling the opioid epidemic, attorneys announced Monday.

    15 steps to reduce unwarranted opioid prescribing

    The settlement, which is expected to be announced in court on Monday, may avert a highly anticipated federal court case that would have marked the first time documents on drug companies' alleged role in the opioid epidemic would have been openly shared, and witnesses would have been questioned in open court, the Wall Street Journal reports.


    More than 2,000 counties, cities, Native American tribes, and others throughout the United States have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, drug distributors, and pharmacies over their alleged role in fueling the opioid epidemic.

    U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland is overseeing a case that consolidates the more than 2,000 lawsuits filed against the pharmaceutical supply chain into one suit, as well as the separate Ohio case that observers said could serve as a "bellwether" for the consolidated case.

    Several parties had previously reached settlement deals in the Ohio case. For instance, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) earlier this month announced that it had reached a settlement agreement, and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals this month completed a nearly $30 million settlement.

    Settlement details

    According to the New York Times, the latest settlement agreement would resolve the Ohio counties' allegations against AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, as well as Teva Pharmaceuticals.

    According to the Journal, a plaintiff attorney said AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson under the settlement will pay $215 million to Ohio's Cuyahoga and Summit counties. Teva Pharmaceuticals is expected to pay at least $20 million cash and donate $25 million worth of substance use disorder drugs.

    The last-minute deal was announced hours before the trial was set to begin, and was reached after broader negotiations fell through on a global deal to settle both the Ohio cases and the thousands of cases filed against the pharmaceutical supply chain. People familiar with the settlement discussions said state attorneys general could announce a broader agreement to settle the cases brought by local and state governments, according to the Times.

    Another defendant in the case, Henry Schein Medical, a small drug distributor, settled with the Ohio counties over the weekend. Under the agreement, Henry Schein Medical will contribute $1 million to a grant-making foundation that focuses on alternative pain treatments and appropriate opioid prescribing, and it will pay $250,000 to cover the plaintiffs' legal fees, according to the Times.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Walgreens Boots Alliance is now the only remaining defendant in the Ohio county case. Judge Polster on Monday said he postponed the case against Walgreens. It is not yet clear if the trial will proceed with just Walgreens (Hoffman, New York Times, 10/21; Hoffman, New York Times, 10/20; Randazzo, Wall Street Journal, 10/21; Luthi, Politico, 10/21; Bernstein et al., Washington Post, 10/21).

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