A major drug manufacturer and the three biggest drug distributors in the country have agreed to a tentative settlement in a lawsuit brought by state and local governments, as well as other parties, over the country's opioid epidemic.
The settlement, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, will see drug distributors McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Inc. and Amerisource Bergen Corp. pay $215 million to Cuyahoga and Summit Counties. Israel-based drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. will pay $20 million to those governments and also give $25 million to addiction treatment efforts.
Hearings on the lawsuit were set to begin today in federal court in Cleveland. Other manufacturers settled earlier with the two Ohio counties leading the lawsuit. Now, only drug retailer Walgreens has yet to agree to settle any portion of the suit, and it is unclear how the claims against them — and claims brought by roughly 2,700 other local and state governments, Native American tribes and hospitals against the rest of the companies — will proceed.
The lawsuit charged that drug manufacturers were not honest in their marketing of prescription painkillers and that drugmakers and distributors did not do enough to check the flow of the drugs being improperly prescribed. Between 2006 and 2012, federal data shows that pharmacies received 76 billion hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, even though federal agencies increasingly warned that the pills were sometimes being abused.
Critics say that torrent of prescription drugs — marketed to exaggerate their effectiveness and to downplay their addictiveness — led to the nation's massive opioid addiction crisis. More than 400,000 people have died of opioid overdoses in the past two decades, federal data suggests.
Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, last month entered into a tentative settlement in the lawsuit that could be worth up to $12 billion for local and state governments. That deal won enthusiastic praise from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, though other states have opposed it. Purdue Pharma is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.