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Drug companies reach 11th-hour deal to settle US opioids lawsuit, averting federal trial

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Drug companies reach 11th-hour deal to settle US opioids lawsuit, averting federal trial
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The US' three major drug distributors and a drugmaker reached an 11th-hour deal worth $260 million (€233 million) on Monday over their role in the opioid addiction epidemic, averting the first federal trial over the crisis.

The trial due to take place at the US District Court in Cleveland was brought forth by the Ohio countries of Cuyahoga and Summit.

The deal settled claims by state and local governments against the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKessen and the manufacturer Teva.

The three drug distributors will pay a combined $215 million (€193 million), said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County. Israeli-based drugmaker Teva will contribute $20 million (almost €18 million) in cash and $25 million (€22 million) worth of generic Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction.

“People can’t lose sight of the fact that the counties got a very good deal for themselves, but we also set an important national benchmark for the others,” Shkolnik said.

In a statement, the three distributors said the money should be used in treatment, rehab, and mental health services.

The deal had no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants.

“There’s no amount of money that’s going to change the devastation and destruction that they’ve done to families not only all across our county but all across the country,” said Travis Bornstein, who was preparing to testify in the Cleveland trial. But he said the settlement should help provide services for people who are struggling.

Bornstein's son Tyler became hooked to opioids as a teenager after receiving a prescription following surgery on his arm. He then died of a heroin overdose five years later in 2014.

In 2017, Ohio had the second-highest death rate from drug overdoses in the US, behind West Virginia.

However, not everyone thinks the settlement is enough. Paul Henley, one of the lead lawyers for the local governments, said the companies should be forced to pay more.

There are still plenty of lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry in the US over the crisis. They were brought by state and local governments, Native American tribes, hospitals, and other entities.

Pharmacy chain Walgreens and other pharmacies will go to trial within six months.

Those suing the industry argue that distributors failed to uphold a requirement of stopping suspicious orders of controlled substances from being shipped. The industry has denied any wrongdoing.

US data released for the trial shows that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills — two powerful and addictive painkillers — where shipped to US pharmacies from 2006 to 2012. Shipments continued to grow even after the US Drug Enforcement Administration warned the drug industry about the misuse of prescription opioids.

The lawsuits are claimed the drugmakers marketed the drugs improperly, playing down their addictiveness.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, reached a tentative settlement last month that could be worth up to $12 billion. But half the states and hundreds of local governments oppose it so it remains to be seen whether the deal will reach the approval it needs.

There have been more than 400,000 deaths linked to opioids in the US since 2000.

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