Since the current opioid crisis erupted nearly 20 years ago, thousands of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of patients, doctors, local governments and more against everyone from drug manufacturers to national pharmacy chains for their role in the crisis. Now, those cases are nearing settlement—if only cities and states could agree on where those payouts go, the New York Times reports.
“It is a struggle over power, politics and money,” the paper reports, with cities and states fighting both for who gets pieces of the potentially massive payouts from drugmakers and distributors and who gets the credit for resolving the opioid epidemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people since 1999.
In an effort to hasten a settlement, lawyers for the plaintiffs proposed a plan that would enable all 34,000 towns, cities, and counties across the country to vote on their own settlement offers. Once an offer is approved, each town, city or county would be bound by the agreement and would forfeit its right to bring further suits.
But a letter signed by a bipartisan coalition of 39 state attorneys general in response to the proposal challenges the plan. For one thing, states fear the decentralized legal attempt could hamper more ambitious settlement proposals and further slow legal negotiations, the Times reports. States also argue that the cities’ plan circumvents several states pursuing their own cases against pharmaceutical giants and distributors while funneling money into the hands of private lawyers handling the cases on behalf of the cities and counties.
A hearing on the cities’ proposal is scheduled this week in Cleveland. If the federal judge overseeing the cases certifies the proposal, it is unclear whether the states or even the defendants could appeal the decision.