The U.S.’s three largest drug distributers and one major drugmaker have agreed to a $260 million settlement to avert the first federal trial over the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties: Cuyahoga and Summit.
The trial would have been a crucial test case that measured the strength of the arguments on both sides of the table. The trial would have also pushed for a nationwide resolution of virtually all lawsuits over opioid use, which is responsible for nearly 400,000 U.S. deaths over the last 20 years.
The settlement came at the 11th hour, just hours before the selected jury was slated to hear opening arguments in a Cleveland federal court.
Drug distributors Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson will pay a combined total of $215 million. Teva will pay $20 million in cash and contribute $25 million in generic Suboxone, a drug that’s used to treat opioid addiction.
As part of the settlements, none of the defendants will admit to wrongdoing.
The pharmaceutical industry is still facing more than 2,000 lawsuits over the opioid crisis. Those who are part of the Ohio deal say that the settlement buys them time to negotiate a nationwide settlement of claims.
A federal judge in Ohio has been pushing parties to come to a settlement for nearly two years.
There is just one defendant left in the trial, which was slated to begin this week: Walgreens. The goal is for Walgreens and other pharmacies to go to trial in the next six months.
The settlement allows both sides to avoid the uncertainties and risks of a trial. The counties involved in the case will immediately receive the money needed to deal with the crisis, while the pharmaceutical companies avoid the finding of possible wrongdoing and/or a large jury verdict.
In 2017, Ohio had the second-highest rate of death from drug overdoses in the nation. West Virginia had the most deaths that year.