Opioid negotiations fail to produce deal just before trial

Negotiations aimed at reaching a major settlement in the nation’s opioid litigation reached an impasse Friday.

Key differences were between state attorneys general and lawyers representing local governments, rather than with the drugmakers and distributors they are suing.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who was one of the negotiators, said late Friday that local governments did not accept a deal worth $48 billion in cash, treatment drugs and services.

“We’re disappointed that the cities and counties refused to go along with that deal,” he said during a news conference in Cleveland after talks under the watch of a federal judge had ended for the day. “This would have helped the entire nation, not just a few counties, not just a few cities.”

Stein and three other attorneys general led the talks on behalf of the states. Paul Farrell, a lead lawyer for the local governments, told The Associated Press that one hang-up was the states’ desire to be in charge of dividing the money.

Earlier in the day, another of the lead lawyers, Paul Hanly, told The Washington Post that the drugmakers Teva and Johnson & Johnson as well as the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson were not willing to increase their offer.

Talks can continue, but opening statements are scheduled for Monday in the first federal trial over the opioid epidemic, which has contributed to the deaths of 400,000 Americans over the past two decades.

That trial involves claims by two Ohio counties, but it’s considered a test case for similar lawsuits from governments across the country. The defendants in the case are Teva, the three major distributors, the smaller distributor Henry Schein and Walgreens. Johnson & Johnson previously settled with the two counties.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster has said he wants the parties to strike a settlement in such a way that it would make a real difference in resolving the crisis. He invited state attorneys general to participate in the negotiations even though their lawsuits against the industry were filed in state courts.

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