Justice Department offers its help to move opioid settlement talks forward

The Department of Justice asked a federal court to participate in opioid settlement talks as a "friend of the court." (Justice.gov)(doj)

After settlement talks hit a snag last month in closely watched national prescription opioid litigation, the federal government is hoping to offer its assistance to move the negotiations forward. The Department of Justice has filed a motion to participate in settlement talks as a "friend of the court." 

In a filing (PDF) this week, the U.S. government said it has a "unique interest and expertise" in the issues and can help the sides reach a deal. A friend of the court provides info that “is timely, useful, or otherwise necessary to the administration of justice," the government wrote in its Monday filing. 

Although it won't be a plaintiff in the litigation, the government said its "substantial financial stake in combating the opioid epidemic has implications for the proper allocation of any monetary settlement of the claims asserted in the multidistrict litigation." 

Judge Dan Polster, who's overseeing hundreds of lawsuits grouped in his court, wrote earlier this year that the sides had a "productive" discussion about a potential agreement. Then, last month, those talks hit some "barriers," according to the judge. To resolve the outstanding issues, the court moved forward with a "limited litigation track" that includes discovery and bellwether trials. 

RELATED: Judge charts course to trial for opioid litigation as settlement talks hit barriers 

Now, the federal government wants to lend "information and expertise to assist the parties and the court in reaching a comprehensive and effective resolution of the issues in this case," according to the filing. 

Hundreds of cities and counties around the U.S. are suing opioid companies and distributors for their role in the addiction crisis, alleging drugmakers "grossly misrepresented" opioid risks and distributors failed to monitor suspicious orders. Among those suing is New York City, which is seeking $500 million itself. Numerous states have sued opioid drugmakers, as well.

RELATED: Justice Department steps in to back hundreds of cities, counties suing opioid makers 

The DOJ has already filed a "statement of interest" in the multidistrict litigation, backing the claims by cities and counties. Such a filing would allow it access to a portion of a potential settlement, Reuters reported at the time. 

Aside from the lawsuits from cities and counties, state attorneys general are investigating opioid drugmakers, and the federal government is pursuing its own litigation, according to a press release.