The late-night settlement between four drug companies and two Ohio counties averted a trial over who is to blame for the opioid crisis, clearing the way for broader talks aimed at resolving thousands of opioid-addiction cases nationwide, reports the Wall Street Journal. Lawyers for the plaintiffs and companies said the settlement could be an important step toward a multibillion-dollar deal that brings closure to 2,500 lawsuits and sends needed money to communities hard-hit by addiction. Municipalities have balked at a comprehensive settlement negotiated by state attorneys general that includes $22 billion in cash and up to $26 billion in donated addiction-treatment drugs and services, saying that it isn’t enough money and that they want some control over how it is spent.
For now, Monday’s deal will send $215 million to Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties from top drug distributors: McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. The counties—which encompass the Cleveland and Akron areas—will get $20 million in cash and the donation of $25 million in addiction-treatment drugs from Israel-based drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. A fifth defendant, Walgreens Boots Alliance, didn’t reach a deal. The trial would have been the first time documents would be presented and witnesses questioned in open court about how drug distributors allegedly contributed to the opioid crisis. Lawyers will now attempt to bridge the deep differences between the plaintiffs and defendants and among the hundreds of states, counties, cities and Native American tribes bringing suits. Municipalities want to avoid the outcome of the 1990s tobacco litigation, in which a $206 billion settlement went to states and was often spent to fill budget holes. Representatives for cities and counties say any broader settlement should immediately go toward helping alleviate the impacts of opioid addiction.