Ohio’s attorney general says his office is disappointed in a reported settlement with five drugmakers and distributors in advance of a huge opioid trial, a trial he tried to delay.
The consolidated opioid lawsuit known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation starts in Cleveland on Monday, involving 2,600 local communities.
Drug manufacturers Teva and Johnson & Johnson and distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Dublin-based Cardinal Health are reportedly offering $22 billion in cash along with $28 billion in drugs and services. Attorney General Dave Yost said in a forum at the Columbus Metropolitan Club it’s not enough.
“If we liquidated the entire pharmaceutical industry, that's not going to be enough to deal with the out year, the year after year damages and problems that we're going to face," Yost said.
Yost said eliminating the industry in the U.S. wouldn’t be helpful. But he said his staff thinks the offer is too light and that they want a more aggressive approach.
Yost led a group of other state attorney general and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in arguing states had jurisdiction in the lawsuit over local communities, since they're working on behalf of all their residents who've been hurt by the opioid epidemic. But they were rejected in their attempt to delay the trial.
Federal judge Daniel Polster created what he called a negotiation class, allowing for all U.S. cities and counties to be involved in settlements unless they opt out. Yost said he thinks that’s unlawful.
“You're buying a pig in a poke. You've got no idea how to how to weigh your risks, the potential rewards because you've got to make a decision to be in the class before you even know what the outcome of the class is. I think that’s contrary to law, frankly," Yost said.
Yost also said he wants what he calls "broad guardrails" to ensure communities only use settlement money on opioid-related expenses - and so that money isn't spent on budget balancing or in other ways that angered people after the 1998 tobacco master settlement.
Along with filing for the delay, Yost had infuriated local officials by initially backing legislation that would give the state authority over the distribution of a settlement, with state lawmakers determining where 90% of the money would go, after 10 percent went to the AG's office and to lawyers who worked with him on the case. The bill would ensure at least 20 percent would go to local communities.
Yost said that bill was not introduced, but he said he's hoping for some way to ensure that the money goes to local governments and not to a "pirahna effect" with lawyers each trying to take their bite of it.