Across the United States, over 2,500 lawsuits have been filed against pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies thought to be involved in the opioid crisis. The first one was set to go to trial this past week, but the parties settled the case in the eleventh hour.
The case involved claims by Summit and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio that the companies had created a public nuisance and engaged in conspiracy and racketeering by engaging in practices that flooded the market with opioid painkillers.
Three drug distributors, Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp. and AmericSource Bergen Corp., agreed to pay the two counties $215 million to settle the nuisance claims. Drug maker Teva Pharmaceuticals says it will pay $20 million over the course of two years, plus contribute $25 million in addiction and overdose medications. A fourth distributor, Henry Schein, settled separately with Summit County and will pay $1 million for a pain management education foundation.
The remaining defendant, Walgreens, will be temporarily dismissed but will join other pharmacy defendants in a trial expected early next year.
Representatives for the two counties acknowledged that the settlements won’t resolve the opioid crisis, but the money will be helpful for supporting first responders and getting addicted people the treatment they need.
Many of the remaining counties, municipalities and tribes who have sued the drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies are hoping for a nationwide resolution of the claims.
Pharmaceutical industry offers to settle all claims for $50 billion
Also in the news this week, a group of drug makers and distributors has offered $50 billion to settle the opioid lawsuits. Teva Pharmaceuticals offered $250 million, along with $23-billion worth of treatment medications, to settle the thousands of lawsuits.
Earlier, Johnson & Johnson offered $4 billion and three distributors offered a combined $18 billion in cash and $2.5 billion in distribution services.
However, while some state attorneys general appear interested in the settlement offers, many counties and municipalities fear that the settlement would not address the costs of the opioid crisis. They point to the 1998 Big Tobacco settlement, where many states took the entire settlements into their general funds, leaving local governments out. The offer would have the money paid out over the course of 18 years.
Would $50 billion be enough to pay the devastating costs of the opioid crisis and help people with their opioid addictions? It seems unlikely, but this may be just a starting point for the negotiations.
So far, the opioid crisis has claimed over 400,000 American lives. States, counties, cities, and tribes have been forced to pay untold millions in police services and drug treatment for those affected.