A $10B settlement? Or $45B? Distributors, AGs go back and forth in opioid talks: Bloomberg

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Distributors have pitched a $10 billion opioid settlement with state attorneys general, Bloomberg reports. (SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

In the complex tangle of opioid lawsuits against drugmakers and distributors, one big number has emerged, Bloomberg reports

The nation’s top three drug distributors—McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health—have verbally offered a $10 billion settlement with state attorneys general, according to the news service. AGs hit back with a much higher demand of $45 billion. Bloomberg cited three unnamed people familiar with the discussions in its reporting.

A McKesson representative told Bloomberg “we regularly engage with the state attorneys general, but the company has made no settlement offers.” The other companies declined to comment, the news service reports.  

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Drugmakers and distributors face thousands of lawsuits alleging pharma companies oversold the benefits and downplayed the risks of using opioids to treat chronic pain. Plaintiffs say distributors failed to monitor suspicious orders and flooded communities with millions of pills. Together, the conduct contributed to a national opioid epidemic, the plaintiffs say. Aside from thousands of lawsuits from cities and counties, state attorneys general are conducting their own probes and lawsuits.  

Importantly, the offer was reportedly made in negotiations with state attorneys general. It isn’t clear whether cities and counties would join a potential deal struck by AGs, or whether they'd pursue their own damages.

RELATED: Ditch the opioid 'negotiating class' proposal, experts say. State attorneys general are better suited to reach a deal 

Investors sent shares for the distributors down by about 6% Tuesday afternoon. 

Aside from talks with AGs, plaintiffs in the lawsuits brought by cities and counties have proposed a novel “negotiating class” to help the sides reach a deal, but one expert told FiercePharma that idea isn’t helping. Perry Zinn Rowthorn, formerly a Connecticut deputy attorney general and now a partner at Shipman & Goodwin, argued that AGs are better suited to reach a deal. Then localities could join in, he said.

A federal judge in Cleveland signaled support for the “negotiating class” idea on Tuesday, Legal Newsline reports. The first trial in the multidistrict litigation is set for October, but defendants have asked for a delay, citing the complexity of the litigation. 

Analysts have put forth a range of estimates into potential liabilities for drugmakers and distributors, with Wells Fargo's David Maris saying the issue could cost defendants up to $100 billion.

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