FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2019, photo, narcotics detective Paul Laurella retrieves unused medications from the police department's disposal box in Barberton, Ohio. Jury selection is set to begin Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in the first federal trial over the nation's opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Opioid settlement talks broaden ahead of 1st federal trial

October 16, 2019 - 7:17 pm

CLEVELAND (AP) — Efforts to settle thousands of lawsuits related to the nation's opioid epidemic were intensifying Wednesday, just days ahead of the scheduled start of arguments in the first federal trial over the crisis.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press that three major drug distributors and two manufacturers were working on the outlines of a settlement.

It would include $22 billion in cash over time plus up to $15 billion worth of overdose antidotes and treatment drugs, with distribution of those drugs valued at another $14 billion.

Under the proposal, the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson would pay a total of $18 billion over 18 years. Johnson & Johnson would pay $4 billion over time. Drugmaker Teva would contribute the drugs, but not cash.

A $50 billion framework was first reported Wednesday by The New York Times. It's not clear whether states and local governments will accept the deal.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing and said the details of the deal could change. Drug companies and state attorneys general who are leading the negotiations either did not return messages or comment.

The talks are picking up as a jury is being selected in Cleveland for a trial on claims against some companies in the drug industry being brought by the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit. They claim the companies engaged in a conspiracy that has damaged their communities and want to hold them accountable.

Jury selection began Wednesday and could wrap up Thursday, with opening arguments scheduled for Monday. Johnson & Johnson has already settled with the two counties. If the other companies settle, it would leave only the pharmacy chain Walgreens — in its role as a distributor to its own stores — and the smaller distributor Henry Schein as defendants. It's not clear whether the trial would go on in that case.

While the case concerns only claims for two counties, it is a bellwether intended to show how legal issues might be resolved in more than 2,000 other lawsuits over opioids. Painkillers and their illegal versions have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades.

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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report.

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