Ohio's Attorney General Is Trying To Pause A Massive Opioid Industry Lawsuit
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The state attorney general of Ohio is trying to put the brakes on a massive federal lawsuit against drug companies over their role in the opioid crisis. More than 2,000 local governments. Native American tribes and others have joined together to bring this lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The plaintiffs are seeking money to cover the costs of dealing with the epidemic. The first phase of the trial is scheduled for October. Joining us now is reporter Nick Castele of member station WCPN, who's been following the case.
NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: Thank you.
CHANG: So explain to us, why is the state attorney general in Ohio wanting to pause this case?
CASTELE: Well, this goes to a dispute between state attorneys general across the country and local governments. They all agree that drug companies should be held responsible for this crisis of opioid addiction and overdose deaths that have strained local and state resources and created a public health crisis. They all think drug companies should pay for this. But while counties have all gotten together and sued in federal court, state AGs have largely filed separate cases in their individual states.
So in Ohio, Attorney General Dave Yost is asking the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to stop this October federal trial or put it on hold. I spoke with Yost this afternoon about the filing. He wants the state's own case in state court against drug companies to go first.
DAVE YOST: In essence, the way we're doing it is telling a couple of favored counties, you get to have your day in court, where everybody else has to take a number and wait.
CASTELE: So rather than make these counties wait, according to Yost, what he wants to do is get a settlement or a verdict for all people in Ohio as soon as can be done.
CHANG: So is this partly a fight over who controls that money, like, whatever money comes out of this litigation?
CASTELE: Well, I asked Yost that, and he did say that he thinks local governments should receive money from settlements or judgments, regardless. But it's true that AGs in counties have disagreed recently over the way that these settlements would be constructed. In federal court earlier this summer, plaintiff counties proposed this thing that they called a negotiation class that would essentially allow all counties across the country to receive portions of a global settlement with drug companies. More than three dozen state AGs, both Democrats and Republicans, argued against that idea in a letter to Judge Dan Polster, who's overseeing the case. They said it could violate state sovereignty. And in Ohio, Dave Yost told me, he expects other state AGs will support his latest filing, too.
CHANG: OK. So Ohio's attorney general wants to put the county claims against the drug companies on hold. How are people in those counties reacting to all this?
CASTELE: Well, Cuyahoga and Summit Counties, which are home to Cleveland and Akron, they both put out statements opposing the filing. And, you know, local governments say they're the ones who have borne the costs of EMS runs, autopsies, local jails, that it's their case and they should be the ones to bring it, essentially.
CHANG: All right. So where do things go from here? What happens next?
CASTELE: Well, Yost has just filed this with the appeals court. I would expect motions, eventually a ruling from the court. But meanwhile, we're all still waiting to see whether any of these companies will actually reach global settlements with local or state governments.
CHANG: That's Nick Castele from member station WCPN.
Thanks very much.
CASTELE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.