Ohio Takes Steps Toward Resolution of Opioid Litigation
State accused five drugmakers of illegal marketing; Johnson & Johnson, Teva in discussions
Ohio has begun settlement talks with opioid-painkiller makers it has sued alleging illegal marketing, and will meet with a federal judge urging settlement of hundreds of similar suits, in early steps toward resolution of the sprawling litigation.Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said his staff held separate meetings with Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. Wednesday. He described the meetings as “settlement discussions.”“We outlined with them where we feel Ohio needs help—in prevention, education and treatment, as well as the huge problem we’re having with our foster-care system because so many of the parents are addicted,” Mr. DeWine said.
Teva said in a statement, “We appreciate the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Ohio AG’s office to discuss this important public health issue.”
Johnson & Johnson said: “While we consider the specifics of our discussions with state attorneys general to be confidential, we continue to maintain that allegations made in lawsuits against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated.” It added: “At the same time we recognize that opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues that must be addressed…we look forward to being a part of the ongoing dialogue.”
Mr. DeWine said Ohio also hopes to begin settlement talks with two other defendants in its suit— Allergan PLC and Endo InternationalPLC—but hasn’t yet scheduled meetings. Defendant Purdue Pharma L.P. has made it clear it isn’t willing to meet, he said. Allergan and Endo didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Purdue referred to a letter it sent Mr. DeWine late last year in which it said it was working with a bipartisan group of attorneys general investigating the crisis. Purdue’s letter urged Ohio to join those discussions rather than pursue its own lawsuit.
Ohio was one of the first states to sue opioid-painkiller makers, alleging they fueled the opioid-addiction crisis by misrepresenting the benefits and addictive risks of their painkillers. The companies have denied the allegations and said they are committed to the safe and medically appropriate use of the drugs.
More than a dozen states, and more than 250 counties and cities, have filed lawsuits similar to Ohio’s, alleging that various opioid-painkiller makers and distributors helped create a crisis of opioid addiction by improperly marketing or distributing the drugs.
Mr. DeWine said that on Wednesday U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing more than 200 of the opioid cases filed in federal court, invited him to attend a meeting with the parties involved in federal court. Mr. DeWine said he will attend the meeting scheduled for Jan. 31 in Cleveland.
Judge Polster is overseeing cases mostly filed by cities and counties. States, by contrast, have filed their lawsuits in state court.
Judge Polster confirmed Thursday that he contacted Mr. DeWine as well as some state attorneys general involved in the bipartisan investigation. He said he invited both camps to send representatives to the Jan. 31 meeting.
“If there’s a way to settle this without years of spending time in litigation, that should take place now,” Mr. DeWine said. “There’s also the argument that you need a global settlement, which is why I think he’s reaching out to the states.”
Earlier this week, Judge Polster had urged the parties in federal court to reach a swift resolution of the litigation.
Judge Polster’s assistant said Thursday the judge wouldn’t comment on Mr. DeWine’s remarks but that he would be issuing an order in the next week with more information.
James Boffetti, a senior assistant attorney general in New Hampshire working on that state’s opioid suit, said Thursday he hadn’t yet heard directly from Judge Polster but that if settlement talks are being proposed, he would take a careful look. “Most of us realize that every day a couple hundred people are dying of opioid abuse,” he said. “It’s a crisis that needs to be addressed.”
New Hampshire’s lawsuit, filed against Purdue in August, has been stalled by fights over whether the suit should be heard in state or federal court.
Real the whole story at the Wall Street Journal.
Appeared in the January 12, 2018, print edition of the Wall Street Journal as ‘Ohio Talks Settlement Of Opioid Lawsuits.’