Opioid Trial Halted by 11th Hour Deal

Nancy Grover

Cleveland, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) — Walgreens is now the only major defendant left in the nation’s first federal trial over the opioid epidemic. A $260 million legal settlement for three drug distributors and a drug manufacturer was announced yesterday, just before opening statements were set to begin. Reports indicate a new trial date will be set within six months for Walgreens Boots Alliance and other companies.

Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, will pay a combined $215 million immediately; drugmaker Teva will pay $20 million in cash and provide $25 million in the opioid addiction treatment drug Suboxone, over a three-year period. While the deal settled the suit with two Ohio counties it does not end the other opioid litigation pending against the companies.

The federal trial in Ohio had been seen as an indication of how the 2,600 pending lawsuits might go. A nearly $50 billion agreement that would have settled all the litigation fell apart late last week.

Both Sides Weigh In

Attorneys general from N.C., Tenn., Penn., and Texas called Monday’s settlement an important step toward a global settlement framework. “People in every corner of the country have been hurt by this crisis, and it is critical that settlement funds be distributed fairly across states, cities, and counties and used wisely to combat the crisis,” they said in a statement. “The global resolution we are working to finalize will accomplish those goals while also ensuring that these companies change their business practices to prevent a public health crisis like this from ever happening again.”

Meanwhile, the three drug distributors issued their own statement and said the settlement allows them and the other parties to work toward a global resolution.

“While the companies strongly dispute the allegations made by the two counties, they believe settling the bellwether trial is an important stepping stone to achieving a global resolution and delivering meaningful relief. The companies expect settlement funds to be used in support of initiatives to combat the opioid epidemic, including treatment, rehabilitation, mental health and other important efforts,” the statement said. “The distributors remain deeply concerned about the impact the opioid epidemic is having on families and communities across the nation – and are committed to being part of the solution.”

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries said the settlement removes it from the “Track 1” opioid cases. “The Company also confirms that there is an agreement in principle with a group of attorneys general from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, as well as certain defendants, for a global settlement framework,” the company said in a statement. “Neither settlement includes an admission of liability.”

Another defendant in the federal trial, the smaller distributor Henry Schein, said it had reached an agreement worth about $1.25 million.

Walgreens issued a statement saying it is “completely unlike the wholesalers involved in the national opioid litigation.” The company said it “never manufactured prescription opioid medications. We never marketed or promoted opioid medications. We never prescribed any opioid medications. Walgreens was not a wholesaler of opioid medications.”

Walgreens said it only sold opioids to fill valid prescriptions written by licensed physicians and that it was diligent to prevent the diversion of controlled substances.

“Before 2014, Walgreens delivered opioid medications – among many other types of medications – only to our own pharmacies, staffed by our own pharmacy professionals,” the statement continued. “We never sold opioid medications to pain clinics, internet pharmacies or the ‘pill mills’ that fueled the national opioid crisis.”

Another former defendant in the federal trial, Johnson & Johnson last week settled for $20.4 million. Last month, generic opioid maker Mallinckrodt Plc settled for $30 million.

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