New proposal in series of opioid lawsuits

More than 1,800 lawsuits have been filed against pharmaceutical companies, local pharmacies and drug distributors for financially profiting from the over-marketing and selling of prescription opioids.  The lawsuits have been filed by several individual states, counties and towns across the United States. 

Data from the CDC reveals that nearly 200,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses to date. The number of deaths, combined with the increasing number of lawsuits happening across the county, have urged settlements between drug companies and individual counties.

As of Friday, these counties are one step closer to a nation-wide settlement. Attorneys for several counties proposed a plan for settlement, and if approved by a federal judge a number of payouts could occur.


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The proposal seeks to expand the number of counties that would be eligible for a payout from nearly 1,600 to almost 25,000. These additional counties would be eligible for an opioid settlement with the pharmaceutical industry. This new plan would sweep all counties, states, and towns who have filed a lawsuit into one negotiating class. This would give local communities the ability to approve or reject any settlements that are reached.

The plan essentially rolls all lawsuits into one, which both encourages other states to join, but suggests that companies would not face additional lawsuits in the future.

“There has got to be a comprehensive approach to addressing the national epidemic, and this is a step toward that,” Joe Rice, co-lead counsel for attorneys who filed the motion representing hundreds of communities suing Big Pharma, told NPR.

If more than three-fourths of communities sign off on potential settlements, it would be considered final and drug companies would pay out, essentially ending their liability. The plan also sets aside an emergency fund of 15 percent of the payout for cities that have been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis.

If cities do not want to be involved, the plan accounts for an opt out option, and pursue settlements individually. Last month for example, the drug company Purdue Pharma settled with the state of Oklahoma for more than $250 million dollars. Oklahoma, a state that has been hit hard by the crisis, has several other pending lawsuits as well.

“This proposed settlement seems to anticipate that and provide for as much of a global settlement as possible,” Richard Ausness a professor in Kentucky who has been following the litigation told NPR.