CINCINNATI, Ohio (FOX19, AP) - Any money coming to Ohio from a settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and other drugmakers needs to be spent locally to fight the epidemic - and in all 88 counties, not just two, the state’s top law enforcement official tells FOX19 NOW.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost says many of the agencies responding to the opioid crisis are local, not statewide. That includes foster care system, first responders, police departments and prosecutors’ offices, he notes.
“So, as a practical matter, if we’re going to use any of this money to fix the problem — which we absolutely ought to do — then it’s going to have to go back to the local level,” he said at an unrelated news conference Wednesday.
Last month, Yost tried to delay massive federal lawsuit against drug companies over their role in the opioid crisis.
The court proceedings, which are taking place in Cleveland, are viewed as potentially precedent-setting in holding the pharmaceutical industry responsible for the deadly epidemic.
The drugs have been blamed for more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. in the past two decades.
Yost also backed a bill giving his office more control over more than 100 lawsuits filed by local governments in the trial of that case.
It would earmark 10% of any award to Yost’s office and outside firms that worked on the case.
The remaining 90% would be up to state lawmakers to parcel out, but at least 20% would go to local governments.
Yost says attempts to force drugmakers to pay should come in a single state action, to allow equal distribution of money across Ohio.
Thirteen other states agreed.
Yost stresses that he doesn’t want his move to be misinterpreted.
His intention, he says, in having the state lead the way in fighting drugmakers is not to take money from cities and counties, but to see that not only Summit and Cuyahoga counties — but all 88 Ohio counties— receive some compensation for what they’ve been through.
“I just want to be absolutely clear that my interest in the law, that it should be consolidated under Ohio’s jurisdiction legally, does not change the fact that the money needs to be spent on the local level,” he said. “Because the misery and the addiction isn’t happening in (state government in) Columbus, it’s happening in communities all the way across the state.”
This comes as OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma embarked earlier this week on a multibillion dollar plan to settle thousands of lawsuits by transforming itself in bankruptcy court into a sort of a hybrid between a business and a charity.
The pharmaceutical giant filed for bankruptcy late Sunday.
It’s the first step in a plan it says would provide $10 billion to $12 billion to help reimburse state and local governments and clean up the damage done by powerful prescription painkillers and illegal opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
Another large manufacturer of generic opioids who is a defendant in the opioid litigation, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, announced earlier this month it has reached a “settlement in principal” with two Ohio counties.
Under the deal, Mallinckrodt would pay Cuyahoga and Summit counties $24 million in cash and donate $6 million in drugs, including addiction treatment medications.
But Bloomberg has reported Mallinckrodt was considering bankruptcy because of the liability it faces in the opioid lawsuits.
Meanwhile, cities and counties are litigating pieces of the state’s claims, Yost argued last month when he asked an appeals court to delay the lawsuit in federal court until Ohio’s case is resolved.
“Settlements are just like plea deals in a criminal case. The snitch that comes in first gets the best deal," Yost tells FOX19 NOW.
He worries about bankruptcy down the road.
“I’m concerned the rest of the state is going to be fighting over what’s leftover if we keep doing it this way," he said.
“Where is Clermont County? Where is Adams County in line? How long do they have to wait to get their day in court? These companies aren’t going to settle before there is a court date staring them in the face," he said.
But some of the roughly 2,000 local governments suing pharmaceutical makers worry states’ efforts could take settlement dollars from their coffers.
Gov. Mike DeWine is among those who has criticized Yost’ legal move, saying it was the wrong way to go about addressing the issues. DeWine has said it would be unfair to local governments who have borne such a heavy part in the burden of the epidemic.
A local police chief who has been on the front lines of the opioid epidemic in his community for years agrees.
“It should not be the state leading it,” said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, a member of the steering committee of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition. “It should be the communities who have suffered, who have had expenditures on the street and who know best how to utilize that money to be most effective in helping not just recoup damages but improve systems to help with addiction overall.
"What’s the fair share? Everyone knew (the risk) going in. Everyone is weighing risk versus reward. Hamilton County and Cincinnati sued and they are the ones who should be making the decisions on whether they move forward or don’t move forward.
“If the state comes in they are going to have to deal with 88 different versions of what we should do with it," Synan said. "That’s why it should be up to the individual communities and not the state. Let them decide what the needs are.”