Attorneys general reject proposed $18B opioid settlement

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HUNTINGTON — An $18 billion proposed global settlement meant to resolve drug firms’ alleged culpability in fueling the opioid crisis has fallen through, months after West Virginia’s attorney general and attorneys leading litigation to find solutions to the issue showed their displeasure with the offer.

The offer from the “Big Three” major drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., McKesson and Cardinal Health — would resolve all litigations, or future litigations, over the companies’ alleged role in the opioid epidemic hitting the United States.

According to reports from The Wall Street Journal, 21 state attorneys general and those from Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia rejected the deal in a letter sent to the companies’ law firms last week. Those states instead asked for between $22 billion and $32 billion, The Journal said.

The top legal officers from Ohio and West Virginia were two of those objecting to the settlement. Attorneys general from North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, who have led the talks for the deal, did not sign the letter.

AmerisourceBergen and McKesson said they were committed to a fair settlement and solution, but are prepared to defend themselves in litigation, the Journal said.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and plaintiffs attorney Paul Farrell Jr. were among the first to object to the settlement last year.

The offer had been for an $18 billion universal settlement to be paid over an 18-year period for all claims made. The allocation for West Virginia would amount to about $8.9 million per year.

Of the amount received by the state yearly, 15 percent would go to the attorney general and 15 percent would go to the counties, with the remaining 70 percent going into a recovery fund. That breaks down to about $6.2 million for the recovery fund and $1.3 million each for the attorney general and county funds, amounting to about $130,000 yearly for hard-hit Cabell County.

However, due to past settlements by the Attorney General’s Office, defendants argue that West Virginia should not receive funds for the recovery and attorney general funds, leaving the state to receive just $1.3 million to split among the counties.

Although Cabell County and Huntington were two of the hardest-hit areas in the opioid epidemic, the proposed settlement was based on population, not how much an area had been affected.

Other factors came into play for the parties declining the settlement, Farrell said, such as attorneys general only getting paid the full amount after the first year if they are able to get counties and cities to release their claims in the opioid lawsuits. Their share would diminish over time if they don’t.

The “Big Three” argued that, since the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office had already settled several drug cases, the state and counties were not eligible for those two 15 percent allotments.

Morrisey had shown his displeasure with the proposal on Twitter, stating that the settlement should reflect the severity of the issue, not population.

Meanwhile, a trial date for Cabell County and Huntington’s claims against the same three companies is expected to be set March 5, when the sides meet in a federal court in Charleston.

Follow Courtney Hessler at

Facebook.com/CHesslerHD

and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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