Three drug firms in settlement talks over USA opioid crisis

The CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Kare Schultz speaks during a news conference to discuss

U.S District Judge Dan Polster had ordered executives for the companies that are defendants to appear in Cleveland on Friday for continued negotiations, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement talks are ongoing.

Opening arguments are scheduled for Monday, with two county governments arguing that the companies engaged in a conspiracy that has ravaged their communities, while the companies say they complied with the law and supplied only drugs that doctors prescribed.

Five of the many companies accused in thousands of federal and state lawsuits over the nation's opioid epidemic may settle for over $50 billion, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Under the proposal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health would pay US$18 billion over 18 years and J&J would pay US$4 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the trial starting Monday have said that the distributors conspired through their trade organization to flout the federal law, which obliged them to monitor sales and report outliers.

According to The New York Times, the cash is meant to go to healthcare, law enforcement, and other public costs of the opioid epidemic, which has killed almost 400,000 people in the U.S. in the past two decades.

Also on Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that J&J had offered to pay $4bn in talks with state attorney generals to settle claims related to the USA opioid epidemic.

The settlement, if finalized, would apply to more than 2,000 lawsuits across the country. The judge has pushed for a deal that could "do something meaningful to abate this crisis".

Without any agreed-upon settlement, jury selection is underway this week with the first trial scheduled to start Monday.

Johnson & Johnson recently settled with the two OH counties for about $20.4 million, but the company is named in numerous other suits, as well. Three other drugmakers also settled with the OH counties.

This proposed deal is considerably larger than the tentative settlement negotiated by Purdue Pharma earlier this fall, not least because it involves five large companies instead of one. If the three distributors and two manufacturers succeed in getting a nationwide settlement, it would leave only two defendants in the immediate case: the pharmacy chain Walgreens, in its role as a distributor to its own stores; and Henry Schein, a small distributor.

Polster, for the second day in a row, denied a request Thursday from defendants to delay the trial because of reports of a settlement offer. One complication in selecting a jury is that the pool comes from counties around Cleveland that have been hard hit by the crisis.

Counting both strong prescription painkillers and drugs such as heroin and illicit fentanyl, opioids have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the US since 2000.



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