Some lawyers just say no to this opi­oid set­tle­ment

$48B frame­work yet to be fleshed out amid crit­i­cism

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Ge­off Mul­vi­hill

State at­tor­neys gen­eral are find­ing a na­tional set­tle­ment over the toll of opi­oids to be elu­sive, as some lawyers for state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are re­new­ing pub­lic crit­i­cism of the pro­posed deal with a group of com­pa­nies led by the na­tion’s largest drug dis­trib­u­tors.

A group of top state lawyers in Oc­to­ber an­nounced the frame­work for a deal that they said would be worth about $48 bil­lion in cash, treat­ment drugs and ser­vices over time.

Some state at­tor­neys gen­eral and lawyers for lo­cal gov­ern­ments crit­i­cized it at the time.

They’re speak­ing up anew as the push con­tin­ues to reach a deal, with a trial over opi­oids sched­uled to start next month in New York.

In a state­ment Fri­day, Pa­trick Mor­risey, the at­tor­ney gen­eral in West Vir­ginia, one of the states hit hard­est by the opi­oid cri­sis, said the $22 bil­lion in cash be­ing of­fered by dis­trib­u­tors Amerisourc­eBer­gen, Car­di­nal Health and McKes­son plus drug­maker John­son & John­son “is way too low.”

Un­der terms pre­vi­ously an­nounced, Teva Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals would also pro­vide a free ad­dic­tion treat­ment drug, and the other com­pa­nies would dis­trib­ute it.

Mor­risey also said that the money would not be al­lo­cated fairly un­der the plan as it stood be­cause states’ shares would be based too much on pop­u­la­tion and not enough on the im­pact of the cri­sis.

“When ad­dress­ing a na­tional pub­lic health cri­sis, a global set­tle­ment shouldn’t be about a pure money grab for the states,” he said. “Monies should be tar­geted to those who need it most and spent on abate­ment.”

His state­ment showed that at least some at­tor­neys gen­eral re­main res­o­lute not to ac­cept the of­fer a week

“When ad­dress­ing a na­tional pub­lic health cri­sis, a global set­tle­ment shouldn’t be about a pure money grab for the states.” — Pa­trick Mor­risey, West Vir­ginia at­tor­ney gen­eral

af­ter 21 of them signed a let­ter say­ing they op­posed the deal as of­fered.

Lead lawyers for more than 2,500 lo­cal gov­ern­ments su­ing the drug in­dus­try said Fri­day that the com­pa­nies have of­fered an ad­di­tional $1.2 bil­lion in cash over 18 years.

The lawyers said that’s not enough: “Con­cerns re­main that the to­tal value be­ing pro­posed is not ad­e­quate nor does it pro­vide any de­gree of as­sur­ance that re­sources will reach com­mu­ni­ties.”

The at­tor­neys gen­eral from North Carolina, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ten­nessee and Texas who cham­pi­oned the set­tle­ment in Oc­to­ber said it was bet­ter to have a na­tional deal than see money go out piece­meal — while it lasts — through trial judg­ments.

Pre­scrip­tion and il­licit painkiller­s have been linked to more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. in the past two decades, and they’ve cre­ated fi­nan­cial bur­dens for fam­i­lies who have lost in­comes and gov­ern­ments who have seen pub­lic ser­vice ex­penses rise as they’ve tried to deal with the cri­sis.

The of­fices of sev­eral at­tor­neys gen­eral who have sup­ported the deal have de­clined com­ment or not re­turned mes­sages.

The com­pa­nies also did not re­spond to mes­sages or did not com­ment on Fri­day night.

Ear­lier in the week, McKes­son said in a state­ment that it was try­ing to fi­nal­ize a set­tle­ment “that would serve as the best path for­ward to pro­vide bil­lions of dol­lars in im­me­di­ate fund­ing and re­lief to states and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.”

RAY THOMP­SON/AP

Pa­trick Mor­risey, who is the at­tor­ney gen­eral in West Vir­ginia, one of the states hit hard­est by the opi­oid cri­sis, says the amount be­ing of­fered by man­u­fac­tur­ers is way too low.

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