Lawyers pitch massive opioid negotiation plan to bring 'global peace' to legal battle

Lawyers for plaintiffs in nationwide opioid litigation proposed a novel procedure to aid settlement talks. (Pixabay)

Thousands of cities and counties have sued opioid drugmakers and distributors for an alleged role in a nationwide epidemic, and now lawyers for the plaintiffs have pitched a novel process to aid settlement talks. It's an idea that could simplify the legal process and offer drugmakers "global peace" to complex litigation, they contend.

Lawyers for plaintiffs filed documents outlining a novel “negotiation class” that would represent every city and county in the U.S., or 24,500 jurisdictions, in settlement talks with drugmakers and distributors. About 1,850 cities and counties have already filed lawsuits, Reuters reports, but the lawyers wrote that others are still affected by a nationwide epidemic. 

“It is self-evident that each city and county has a vital interest in, and a real need for, financial relief from, and better practices by, the defendants,” the lawyers wrote in a Friday filing.  

Cities and counties would be able to opt out if they choose. The class would allow representatives of the plaintiffs to negotiate with drugmakers and distributors on potential deals. If the lawyers receive settlement offers, cities and counties will be able to vote, and only offers that get a 75% vote would go to the judge for final approval.  

The group would split the settlement funds based on the number of people with opioid addiction in the area, plus the number of opioid overdose deaths and the amount of opioids that have been distributed there. 

For drugmakers and distributors, the negotiation mechanism offers a shot at “global peace.” A deal under the setup "legally forecloses" all or nearly all future lawsuits, the filing said.

In a statement to Reuters, defendant and drug distributor Cardinal Health said the idea is “a novel and untested approach that is likely to face extended legal challenges and lead to years of collateral litigation.” Opioid drugmaker Purdue told the news service it is “committed to working with all parties toward a resolution.” 

Cities and counties started suing drugmakers and distributors back in 2017 for allegedly overselling the benefits of opioids to treat pain and downplaying addiction risks. Now, 1,850 lawsuits are grouped up in Cleveland federal court; the first trial is set for October.

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The multidistrict litigation in Cleveland is playing out as Oklahoma officials are at trial against Johnson & Johnson. That state sued J&J, Teva and Purdue over the drugmakers’ alleged role in a statewide opioid epidemic. So far, it has secured settlements from Teva and Purdue totaling $355 million. Johnson & Johnson opted not to settle ahead of trial and is defending itself in court.