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Opioid Crisis Settlement Structure Proposed To Resolve Thousands of Claims Nationwide

Attorneys representing cities and counties nationwide for costs associated with the opioid crisis suggest that a new negotiation plan may help settle thousands of claims against manufacturers and distributors of the addictive medications, and bring much needed relief to every community in the U.S.

There are currently more than 1,800 opioid crisis lawsuits pending in the federal court system, each seeking damages for costs associated with addiction and abuse, which have plagued communities nationwide in recent years.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the claims, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established centralized proceedings for the opioid cases last year, consolidating the claims before U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in the Northern District of Ohio, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

On June 17, plaintiffs filed a motion seeking certification for a negotiation class (PDF), which would represent all 24,500 cities and counties in the United States as part of an opioid settlement. The proposed plan would allow any community to opt out. Those who remain would vote on any potential settlements, with 75% needed for a proposal to go to the judge overseeing the claims.

An opioid settlement fund would be divided based on three factors: the number of people diagnosed with opioid addiction in each community, the number of opioid deaths suffered, and the amount of opioids believed to have been distributed legally there.

“Given the sheer number of city and county entities in the United States, one-by-one approval of a comprehensive resolution is likely impossible as a logistical matter,” the motion notes. “A cohesive negotiating group of cities and counties is essential because only a collective negotiating front is able to offer the prospect of global peace, which typically results in what is termed a ‘peace premium’ in mass harm litigation.”

Opioid Abuse Crisis

In the United States, evidence now suggests that drug overdoses kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined. In fact, between 1999 and 2015, more than 560,000 people died from drug overdoses. Even as abuse has seemingly decreased, opioid overdose deaths have increased.

In 2015, two-thirds of drug overdoses were linked to opioids, including Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl, which on its own is largely driving the number of opioid deaths.

Americans use more opioids than any other country in the world, with the number of prescriptions in the U.S. last year providing enough pills to medicate every American 24 hours a day for three weeks consecutively. Opioid overdoses kill more than 90 Americans every day, experts say, and the economic burden of opioid misuse costs the country $78.5 billion per year.

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