Ohio AG Dave Yost Moves To Freeze Counties' Opioid Suit

Powerful prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, are critical for severe pain management, but are carefully prescribed for fear of abuse and addiction.
Powerful prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, are critical for severe pain management, but are carefully prescribed for fear of abuse and addiction. [Phil Lowe / shutterstock]

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is trying to put the brakes on the massive federal lawsuit against drug companies over their roles in the opioid crisis, less than two months before the first trial is scheduled to begin.

Yost filed a motion Friday with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking either to dismiss the Ohio counties’ complaints or put them on hold until the end of a separate case brought by the state.

The move is the latest development in a dispute between states and local governments on how to proceed with claims that the drug industry fueled the deadly — and costly — wave of addiction nationwide.

More than 2,000 local governments, Native American tribes and others are part of the suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, attorneys general have filed their own lawsuits in individual state courts.

“In essence, the way we’re doing it is telling a couple of favored counties, ‘You get to have your day in court,’ while everybody else has to take a number in wait,” Yost said of the combined-county litigation in federal court.

The first trial of that case, centering on claims brought by Summit and Cuyahoga counties, is scheduled to begin Oct 21. But Yost said the state of Ohio, rather than individual counties, should take the lead in representing the interests of state residents.

“What this is is trying to make sure that we can get to a settlement or a verdict for all of the people in the state as quickly as we possibly can,” he said.

Yost said he expects other state attorneys general to support his motion. A bipartisan group of more than three dozen state AGs oppose efforts by plaintiffs’ attorneys in the federal case to create a “negotiating class” to divide settlements among counties nationwide.

Local government leaders expressed outrage this week at Yost, who also circulated draft legislation with a proposal to give the attorney general’s office power over suits like the opioid litigation and the funds they generate.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley called the AG’s filing an “extraordinary and desperate” move. Officials in Summit County also opposed it.

“This eleventh-hour move by Yost is both disappointing and frustrating,” Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro said in a Friday statement released. “As with the prevention, education, interdiction, and treatment costs falling to local governments like Summit and Cuyahoga counties, the burden of information gathering and preparing for trial has likewise been borne by those of us on the front lines.  We are ready for our day in court and have no plans to change course.”

Some companies have sought to resolve the suits ahead of the October trial.

Allergan announced last week it would pay $1.9 million to Summit County and $3.1 million to Cuyahoga County to settle the claims that the counties planned to bring against the company in October. Endo International has also reached an agreement in principle to settle, according to an attorney for Cuyahoga County.

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