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First major federal opioid case ends in settlement

The government has not held back on its promise to hold those it deems responsible for the opioid crisis accountable in court. This promise has held true in the first federal case, involving local government agencies holding opioid distributors and manufacturers financially accountable for the damage the government claims the drugs have caused within their community.

What were the details of the case?

This case involved two Ohio county government agencies filing suit against various opioid manufacturers and distributors. The counties had already negotiated settlements with Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt and others earlier this year. However, drug distributors Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson and drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals were not a part of the settlement. The government agencies recently announced the parties have agreed to a settlement.

Representatives of the agencies state it was important to have a sizeable settlement to better ensure these massive companies were held accountable. Government agencies will likely echo this stance in future cases.

Why is this just the beginning?

Almost 3,000 similar lawsuits are pending. These cases, as noted in a recent piece by NPR, were filed by local city, county and tribal representatives working in a similar manner to hold large drug manufacturers and distributors accountable for the impact of opioids on their communities. The lawsuits recently merged and are moving forward under the name National Prescription Opiate Litigation. These cases could move forward with litigation or, like this case, choose to negotiate settlements.

What is the benefit of a settlement?

A settlement can benefit all parties. Instead of relying on the court system to determine an appropriate resolution, settlements allow parties control over negotiations.

In this case, the terms included almost $260 million in payment from the distributors and manufacturers to the communities. Government officials state the funds will be used to help fund "social service programs and first responders on the front lines of the opioid crisis."

What does this mean for health care professionals?

The large settlement is an example of the current trend in opioid cases. The government has successfully pursued cases against physicians accused of taking illegal kickbacks from drug distributors and of illegally distributing opioids. Physicians and other medical professionals are wise to review their prescription practices and make changes as needed to avoid becoming a party to similar forms of litigation.

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