Drug companies reach settlements to avoid landmark federal opioid trial

Daniel Uria
A production facility for Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva is seen Monday in Jerusalem. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
A production facility for Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva is seen Monday in Jerusalem. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Several drug companies reached a last-minute settlement with federal prosecutors Monday to avoid going to trial in a legal fight to determine who's responsible for the U.S. opioid crisis.

The landmark trial is scheduled to begin in Ohio federal court on Monday that observers said will play a substantial role in assigning liability for the crisis, which the Trump administration has declared a national health emergency.


Late settlements, however, were reached with four companies -- Teva Pharmaceutical and distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergan -- to drop out of the trial, attorneys announced Monday. Another defendant, Henry Schein Medical, reached a settlement worth $1.25 million, the Post report said.

No settlements were announced involving Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, Winn Dixie and multiple individual physicians, who are also named as defendants in the federal lawsuit.

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U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of the Northern District of Ohio will oversee the consolidated lawsuit known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, which combines more than 2,000 pending cases with northern Ohio's Summit and Cuyahoga counties -- which cover major cities Cleveland and Akron -- serving as the plaintiffs.

Experts say the trial Monday is a bellwether case -- and the first in a large and complex web of litigation involving some of the largest U.S. drug makers and a crisis that has contributed to tens of thousands of lives -- in which the defendants and plaintiffs will test arguments and determine the amount of money at stake as they work toward a settlement.

One of the original defendants, Johnson & Johnson, said earlier this month it also reached a $20.4 million settlement agreement with two Ohio counties listed as plaintiffs in the case. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has filed for bankruptcy as part of a settlement deal. However, both agreements still need final approval.

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The defendants are accused of fueling the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing narcotic drugs and downplaying the risks of overdose and addiction. National distributors, meanwhile, failed to take action on suspicious orders, plaintiffs argue.

The drug companies deny accusations that they worked in concert to market the drugs, arguing that they complied with federal regulations and delivered legitimate medications to patients experiencing painful conditions, such as cancer.

Plaintiffs are seeking compensation to recoup sums of money governments have spent on healthcare and criminal issues since the onset of the crisis, which has totaled more than $500 billion, according to some counts.

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