Two Ohio counties have asked a court to deny their state attorney general’s request to delay a major trial over the toll of opioids.
In their filing Wednesday with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Cuyahoga and Summit counties argued the state doesn’t have a say in the matter because it’s not part of the federal case set for trial Oct. 21 in Cleveland.
Attorney General Dave Yost had asked the appeals court in August not to let a district judge move ahead with the trial. It would be the first federal trial of claims brought by local governments seeking to hold the drug industry accountable.
Yost argued that the state’s own claims, made in state rather than federal court, should move ahead of those brought by the two counties that are home to Cleveland and Akron.
It’s not right, Yost said, that relief could come to those counties ahead of the rest of the state, and especially areas where opioids have been an even bigger problem.
But the state “sat on the sidelines while the district court addressed and denied the Defendants’ motions to dismiss, which raised many of the same issues Ohio seeks to raise here,” the counties said in their legal paper this week.
Judge Dan Polster, who is in charge of the trial, said in an order Wednesday that he did not intend to honor Ohio’s request to stop the trial, agreeing that the counties’ case doesn’t get in the way of the state’s.
“Cuyahoga County and Summit County are seeking, and only entitled to, damages they suffered themselves,” Polster wrote.
Opioids, a category of drugs that includes prescription versions and illegal drugs such as heroin — have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000. State and local governments have been suing the drug industry and also negotiating settlements with companies.
The governments are also battling with each other over how the legal cases should work. Ohio, one of the states hardest hit by the crisis, is a prime example.
Since August, the two counties have reached settlements with four drugmakers — Allergan, Endo, Johnson & Johnson and Mallinckrodt — to remove them from the federal case for a total that could reach more than $48 billion in cash, drug and charitable donations and legal fee reimbursements.
A fifth company, Purdue Pharma, has reached a tentative national settlement that could be worth up to $12 billion and has also been removed from the Oct. 21 trial. The details of the Purdue deal could be changed in bankruptcy court, and several states — not including Ohio — oppose the arrangement.
The remaining defendants in the Oct. 21 trial, if it moves ahead as scheduled, are the drugmaker Teva’s Actavis subsidiary, plus distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Henry Schein, and McKesson, along with the Walgreens pharmacy chain.
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