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Local Opioid Settlements Total More Than $60 Million As Federal Trial Nears

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is presiding the wide-ranging opioid lawsuits from his courtroom at the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland

This month, attorneys representing Cuyahoga and Summit counties will try to convince a jury to hold the drug industry responsible for the opioid crisis.

The neighboring Northeast Ohio counties are among the more than 2,000 local governments, Native American tribes and other groups suing opioid manufacturers and distributors in federal court.

As plaintiffs, they are accusing drug companies of pushing opioid painkillers with misleading claims that downplayed the risk of addiction. Distributors, they argue, ignored suspicious orders for pills, allowing a deadly crisis of substance use to spread nationwide.

Local governments say they paid a price for the years-long waves of overdoses — in the foster care system, medical examiners’ offices, addiction treatment and for first responders.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who oversees the sprawling set of cases from his courtroom in Cleveland, has pushed for a settlement. But many defendants haven’t yet agreed to one, meaning they’ll likely be included in the trial beginning Oct. 21.

Why are only two counties going to trial in October?

It is the first trial to come out of the combined federal case, known as “multi-district litigation.” The trial is sometimes called a “bellwether trial” because it gives the other parties a sense of how the claims will fare before a jury.

Polster placed Cuyahoga and Summit counties, which are located in his Northern District of Ohio, in the first track of cases to head to trial.

Cabell County and Huntington, West Virginia, will serve as plaintiffs in a second trial. The cities of Cleveland and Akron are set to take their claims to trial sometime after that.

How much money have Cuyahoga and Summit counties received in settlements?

In total, about $66 million in settlements have been reached with the two counties so far. The agreements include a combination of cash and drugs.

Endo International agreed to pay the counties $10 million and to give them another $1 million in free Adrenalin and Vasostrict, two medications the company makes.

Allergan, another drug manufacturer, agreed to pay $1.9 million to Summit County and $3.1 million to Cuyahoga County.

Mallinckrodt, which manufactures generic opioids, agreed to pay the two counties $24 million total. The settlement also includes $6 million in free products.

Johnson & Johnson, which recently lost a separate opioid trial in Oklahoma, announced a $20.4 million settlement with Summit and Cuyahoga earlier this month. The counties will receive a total of $10 million in the agreement. Another $5 million will pay for the counties’ legal costs. The company will also put $5.4 million toward local nonprofit addiction programs.

These settlements allow the companies to avoid this month’s initial trial, but they don’t shield the firms from claims brought by the thousands of other plaintiffs in the federal case.

Only Purdue Pharma has announced a wider-reaching framework to settle with numerous plaintiffs, in both the federal suit and individual state cases.

Which drug companies remain as defendants in the suits brought by Cuyahoga and Summit?

Several major companies are set to defend themselves in this fall’s trial. The list includes Ohio-based Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Walgreens.

What about the state of Ohio’s lawsuit against the drug industry?

Ohio, like many other states, has sued opioid manufacturers and distributors in the state courts, not federal court.

In late August, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asked a federal appeals court to put the counties’ federal case on hold while the state case proceeds. The 6 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hasn’t ruled yet on Yost’s motion.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.