Is the US opioid litigation nearing an end game?

Drugmakers, wholesalers and lawmakers in the US are said to be thrashing out the details of a big settlement – maybe as much as $50 billion – to settle thousands of lawsuits related to the US opioid crisis.

The frenzied negotiations are taking place ahead of the start of the first federal trial next week that will try to determine culpability for the epidemic of opioid addiction, overdoses and fatalities that has gripped the US in recent years.

According to reports, the settlement offer has been made by pharma companies Teva and Johnson & Johnson, as well as the ‘big three’ US wholesale distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

The deal includes $22 billion in cash as well as another $15 billion in drugs to treat opioid dependency and overdose and an estimated $14 billion allocated for distribution of those therapies, according to an Associated Press article.

It says the wholesalers would contribute $18 billion over 18 years, J&J would contribute $4 billion, while financially troubled Teva would supply $15 billion in drugs over 10 years as well as distribution services – but no cash – to safeguard it from bankruptcy.

At the moment it’s still not clear if that framework will be acceptable to state and local governments, and it is thought that several states are resisting the deal on the grounds that it will not go far enough to abate the crisis.

Disagreement between different states has threatened to scupper a $10 to $12 billion settlement offer from Purdue Pharma, which filed for bankruptcy last month.

With the talks ongoing, US District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio – who will preside over the trial due to start on Monday – has summoned the chief executives of the three wholesalers as well as Teva’s CEO Kåre Schultz to discuss the settlement offer, says Reuters.

J&J previously settled litigation with two Ohio counties selected to serve as bellwethers in the litigation, so is not a defendant in that trial.

It is thought however that the company hopes to piggy-back onto the wider settlement to try to put the opioid litigation behind it as it battles other cases involving talc, vaginal mesh products and its antipsychotic drug Risperdal (risperidone).

The two Ohio counties (Cuyahoga and Summit) have been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic and are requesting damages of up to $8 billion to provide medical and social care for those affected.

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