With bellwether opioid trial nearing, Ohio attorney general pushes for delay

Many inside and outside the pharma industry are anticipating an October bellwether trial testing claims against opioid drugmakers and distributors, but Ohio’s attorney general Dave Yost is seeking to put a hold on that trial. 

In a new court filing (PDF), Yost argues the lawsuits that are set to be tried—brought by Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties—ignore the needs of the rest of the state. He’s asking the court to halt the trial until the state’s own opioid lawsuits go to trial, and he says Supreme Court precedent backs his argument. 

Ohio sued opioid drugmakers and distributors in 2017 and 2018, respectively, in state courts, Yost writes. The counties sued several months after the state’s lawsuit, but now the counties’ claims are set to be tried first in a federal court.  

Yost listed a number of issues with the way the proceedings are playing out, including that “the hardest-hit counties of Appalachia and the vast majority of the state are being asked to take a number and wait—and that wait could delay or prevent justice.” 

Yost argues his lawsuits are “poised to bring comprehensive statewide relief, accountability, and remediation to the citizens of Ohio for their past, present, and future injuries.” On the contrary, the counties “advance claims that belong to the State in an effort to commandeer moneys that rightfully should be distributed across the state by Ohio,” the attorney general writes. 

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Aside from those arguments, Yost writes that the trial would fragment claims and could result in inconsistent verdicts, duplicate or overlapping damages and misallocated funds. 

As it stands, Cuyahoga and Summit counties are set to be the first localities to air their arguments against opioid drugmakers and distributors in a seven-week trial scheduled for Oct. 21. The counties are asking for $8 billion in damages.  

Yost’s filing comes after Endo and Allergan inked deals worth $11 million and $5 million, respectively, to resolve the claims from the counties. After those deals, Yost said the companies would still face claims from the state. 

In all, about 2,000 cities, counties and other localities have sued opioid drugmakers and distributors, arguing drug companies oversold opioids' benefits for treating chronic pain and downplayed their risks. Distributors didn’t monitor suspicious orders, plaintiffs say. Together, the conduct helped create a national opioid and addiction crisis, they add.

RELATED: How significant is J&J's $572M opioid verdict in Oklahoma? It's complicated 

Separately, Oklahoma sued Johnson & Johnson, Teva and Purdue over a claim their opioid marketing led to a public nuisance. The state secured $355 million in settlements from Purdue Pharma and Teva and a $572 million verdict against J&J. J&J said it’ll appeal.