Drug CEOs summoned by judge to discuss opioid settlement

A federal judge summoned the chief executives of the country’s three largest drug distributors to discuss a far-reaching proposal to resolve thousands of lawsuits alleging they fueled America’s opioid crisis, according to multiple media reports.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio gave the order to McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen as the distributors try to strike a megadeal ahead of a trial before Polster that’s slated to begin on Monday, according to Reuters, which first reported the news.

There are a slew of other drug industry defendants, including CVS and Walgreens, that have been swept up in the landmark federal opioid trial in which more than 2,600 lawsuits, the majority from states and localities, have been consolidated in an effort to force the companies to pay for the drug crisis.

The six defendants expected to appear before Polster — including the three giant drug distributors, a small distributor, Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Walgreens — could become the first in the national opioid litigation to reach a global settlement, according to The New York Times.

They have been negotiating a settlement valued at roughly $50 billion, which would allow them to resolve 2,600 lawsuits brought nationwide. Polster has pushed for a deal that could “do something meaningful to abate this crisis,” Reuters reported.

It’s unclear whether lawyers for local governments would back such a deal; they’ve previously said they wanted more money, the timeline for payments to shorten and specific guarantees on the allocation of the money, the Times said.

In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, about two-thirds of which were linked to opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the lawsuits, the opioid drugmakers caused this epidemic by misleading the public about the dangers of opioid painkillers, while overplaying their benefits, and distributors exacerbated it by continuing to supply pills, despite knowing that individuals might be abusing them.

Opioid manufacturers and drugmakers deny these allegations.

In September, Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy, days after reaching a tentative $12 billion settlement for its role in the opioid crisis.