Architecture For Possible Nationwide Opioid Settlement Unveiled If finalized, such a deal could funnel tens of billions of dollars to American communities struggling with the addiction crisis, while restoring stability to one of the country's biggest industries.

Architecture For Possible Nationwide Opioid Settlement Unveiled

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/732661209/732807718" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:

Attorneys who represent hundreds of towns, cities and states have a new plan to deal with the opioid crisis. They unveiled it today in a federal court in Ohio. It lays out, for the first time, how tens of billions of dollars in payments would be distributed if these lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies lead to big settlements. Brian Mann with North Country Public Radio has been following this story for a while. He's with me now.

Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: OK. So there has been talk of a big, national settlement. People have compared it to the tobacco settlements of the 1990s. What is this opioid proposal?

MANN: Right, so what we're seeing here is really the architecture of how a big, global settlement might work if companies and all of these communities do reach a deal. And what we've been seeing is growing questions about who would get that money, how it would be distributed. Remember. There's a lot on the line here. This is life or death for cities and counties who are dealing with thousands and hundreds of thousands of drug-dependent residents. And they need money to fund rehab programs, recovery centers. And they think the drug industry should help pay for that. And remember. Household name companies like Johnson & Johnson, CVS, also manufacturers like Purdue Pharma - they made billions of dollars selling opioid pain medications that made sick and killed a lot of Americans.

KING: So if this plan is approved by the court, how would it work?

MANN: Right out of the gate, about 25,000 local governments around the U.S. would...

KING: Wow.

MANN: ...Be swept into a big pool of communities, right? This is big. And they would all be eligible for payouts. And also, they would get to vote on any settlements with drugmakers and distributors. And then within each of those local communities, they'd get to decide how all that money would be spent.

KING: And what does this mean for the drug companies?

MANN: Yeah, this is interesting. I talked with Joe Rice, one of the lead attorneys who's actually suing big pharma. And he says drug makers have been looking for a plan that gets them to final closure, that really ends this nightmare for the industry. Remember. This has already bankrupted one firm - Insys Therapeutics. And another, Purdue Pharma, has talked openly of filing for Chapter 11. So if this plan can convince enough of the country to sign off on a single global deal, it might convince more of these companies to reach a settlement.

KING: That's interesting - so some relief potentially on the part of the companies. Have you gotten any reaction from from any of the pharmaceutical companies yet?

MANN: We haven't gotten their voice on this yet. They're - this was just filed in Ohio. What we do know is that these companies have already begun to settle other opioid lawsuits around the country worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And also, the judge overseeing this huge case in Ohio - this largest consolidated case in the nation where this motion was filed - he's pushing the parties really hard to reach a deal. So I think this pressure on the industry is going to continue to grow. The Ohio case is scheduled to go to trial in October, so the clock there is ticking.

KING: And if a settlement is reached and if a plan like this is implemented, what would it mean for this nationwide fight against opioid addiction - a very serious problem?

MANN: Yeah, I've been spending time in places like Summit County, Ohio, that are fighting to get ahead of this epidemic. And they all say they don't have enough money. A lot of the work - it's pretty amazing. It's being done on a shoestring with volunteers, and they need more programs to literally keep people alive. Judge Bolster, who's overseeing this opioid case in federal court, has said that delaying these payouts could mean more people overdosing, more people dying. So there's a lot on the line here.

KING: Very high stakes - Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio joining us by Skype.

Thanks, Brian.

MANN: Thank you so much.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.