Next state targets for opioid regulations include pharmacies and drug manufacturers

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With a nationwide $ 26 billion settlement in sight over claims that America’s three largest drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson helped fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic, governments of States and locals will soon turn their attention to pharmacies and a handful of drug manufacturers.

U.S. state attorneys general are expected to unveil a proposed settlement with McKesson Corp distributors this week. Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. contributed $ 21 billion, while Johnson & Johnson reportedly pay $ 5 billion.

The price of the final settlement could fluctuate depending on how many state and local governments accept or reject the deal to pursue litigation on their own.

More than 3,000 lawsuits, mostly by local governments, have been filed over the opioid crisis against a range of companies for allegedly downplaying the risk of drugs and for lax controls that have allowed highly addictive pain relievers to take hold. flood the communities.

Excluded from the potential $ 26 billion deal are drugstore operators including Walgreens Boots Alliance, Walmart Inc., Rite Aid Corp. and CVS Health Corp., which were accused of ignoring red flags that opioid drugs were being diverted to illegal channels.

The deal would also not include drugmakers AbbVie Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. or Endo International Plc., which have been accused of deceptively marketing their pain relievers as safe.

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Nearly 500,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2019, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said last week that preliminary data showed 2020 to be a record year for the total number of drug overdose deaths with 93,331, up 29% from the previous year.

Pharmacies and drug makers have denied the claims, saying the increasing opioid prescriptions were medically motivated, following federal law, and known risks included on labels approved by the United States for medication.

News of the proposed nationwide settlement came three weeks after a jury trial began in New York City, and legal experts said upcoming court proceedings will put pressure on the remaining defendants to reach a deal.

The drugmakers are currently defending themselves in the New York lawsuit and a lawsuit in Orange County, Calif., And are expected to face another lawsuit in San Francisco with pharmacies later this year. Pharmacies, which settled the New York case shortly before the trial, also face a lawsuit in October in Ohio.

Endo is set to stand trial next week to assess damages in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Tennessee counties and an infant who was believed to have been born addicted to opioids, in which a judge has previously held the company liable. District Attorney General Barry Staubus of Sullivan County, Tennessee, told WHLJ television that the company had offered to settle, but the deal would be limited to this case.

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‘COMMON GOAL’ TO END THE EPIDEMIC

Richard Ausness, a law professor at the University of Kentucky, said a settlement this week narrows down the groups of defendants in the litigation and makes it harder for remaining companies to blame others.

“This puts pressure on them to come to an agreement, especially if the mechanisms have been formulated in this regulation,” he said.

Peter Mougey, a lawyer representing local governments pursuing opioid-related disputes across the country, said at a press conference to discuss the proposed regulations that he was “frustrated” that pharmacies were not part of the national agreement.

“They have had ample time to assess where they stand in their responsibility, and we all have a common goal of trying to end this opioid epidemic,” he said.

Pharmacies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In 2019, Teva proposed a settlement in which it would donate drug addiction treatment drugs valued at $ 23 billion. Industry analysts have said the actual drug cost for Teva could be as low as $ 1.5 billion, however, and plaintiffs’ attorneys have hesitated at what they called an inflated estimate.

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Joe Rice, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Teva had not been involved in the settlement talks since early 2020, but the plaintiffs hoped to negotiate with them in the future.

Teva said in a statement on Tuesday that she remained “confident” that she would reach a deal involving donated drugs and that she would defend herself against “unfounded claims” in the meantime.

“Now more than ever – with local government budgets severely affected by COVID – it is clear that the drugs donated provide the holistic approach needed to address the epidemic of addiction,” the Israel-based company said.

AbbVie and Endo did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the settlement negotiations.

Other settlements are also being negotiated with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and generic opioid maker Mallinckrodt Plc who are currently working in bankruptcy courts to secure support for settlements worth more than $ 10 billion and $ 1.6 billion, respectively.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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