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Purdue Pharma Nears Settlement As Judge Approves Opioid Negotiating Class

Powerful prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, are critical for severe pain management, but are carefully prescribed for fear of abuse and addiction. [Anthony Pitch / Shutterstock]
Powerful prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, are critical for severe pain management, but are carefully prescribed for fear of abuse and addiction.

The federal judge in Cleveland overseeing a massive set of lawsuits over the opioid crisis has approved a plan that could allow communities nationwide to benefit from drug company settlements and court judgements.

The decision comes amid news that one of the defendants, Purdue Pharma, is nearing a settlement with more than 2,000 local governments.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster on Wednesday approved the creation of a “negotiation class,” allowing counties and municipalities across the country to approve settlements and divide any payouts.

State attorneys general had opposed the plan, saying it infringes on their powers to negotiate on behalf of their residents.

Polster wrote his order would not allow local governments to negotiate against the states. While drug companies can choose to negotiate with this new class, he wrote, they aren’t required to. 

Meanwhile, in a statement released Wednesday, the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys said they’re recommending that their local government clients move forward to finalize a settlement with Purdue.

“We believe that this settlement would bring desperately needed recovery resources into local communities that, for years, have been forced to shoulder the devastating consequences and financial burden of the opioid epidemic,” the statement reads. “We look forward to sharing more details about the resolution’s structure and terms in the near term.”

Purdue declined to offer details on the terms of the potential settlement, saying only that it was talking with plaintiffs about resolving the claims and delivering “billions of dollars” to communities around the country.

Drug maker Mallinckrodt reached a $30 million settlement with Summit and Cuyahoga counties last week and in a similar agreement in principle,  Endo International and Allergan also settled with both counties in August

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who has moved to put federal opioid litigation on hold, told NPR that the state supported the potential deal with Purdue.

“The alternative is to head to bankruptcy court, and a free-fall fire sale of assets and no personal money out of the Sacklers,” Yost said. “So we’re going to support this at the end of the day if there’s a deal. And let me stress that there is not a deal right now. There is a proposal, and it remains to be seen whether we’re going to get to critical mass here.”

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