Talk about a potential settlement of a case against the manufacturers and distributors of opioids brought by cities and counties across the nation may be putting the cart before the horse.
Rome attorney Andy Davis, who represents several jurisdictions in Northwest Georgia in the class action lawsuit, stressed that a federal judge in Ohio has solely certified a national settlement class in the event that a final settlement is reached.
Cities and counties across the nation have until the end of the business day Friday, to opt out of the class action suit and perhaps go it alone.
Rome and Floyd County officials have said they’ll stay in.
As a multi-district case, the suits were assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio, because that was the epicenter of the crisis in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.
Polster has been the subject of controversy because he has spoken out about the case and several of the pharmaceutical defendants sought unsuccessfully to have him removed.
In trying to resolve the cases, Polster certified the national settlement class — which includes the Northwest Georgia plaintiff group: Rome, Floyd County, Whitfield County, Chattooga County and the city of Cartersville.
Davis said there’s no hard offer on the table yet, just a distribution formula. He said that typically when a settlement is proposed, “there is already a dollar-figure that is calculated, there is already an amount the attorneys know they are going to get. They know what the expenses are going to be and pretty much know what each claimant will get. This is pretty unique.”
Several of the defendant distributors and manufacturers have already appealed it, according to Davis.
“Everything is still in flux right now. There isn’t any national settlement,” he said. “There is a settlement class to try to get to that point.”
In a presentation to the Rome Rotary Club, Davis said that Americans have an instinctive desire to trust people from whom they seek help. Specifically in this case, patients trusted doctors and doctors trusted the drug companies to provide the chemicals in the medicine in order to help their patients.
“It was this trust that led us into where we are today with an opioid epidemic,” he said.
Davis explained that three Sackler brothers bought Purdue Pharma — as a patent for a drug that was used in conjunction with end-of-life pain relief for cancer patients was about to expire — and developed a new drug that would protect their patent. The result was Oxycontin.
“It was marketed for all kinds of chronic pain. It was claimed to be safe and reliable with addiction rates of less than 1%,” Davis said.
The attorney explained, around 1996 the medical community added pain as a fifth vital sign, in addition to temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate during routine check-ups.
“Purdue Pharma, the manufacturers, and the distributors took advantage of this pain vital sign and began to market more and more about how they had come up with the miracle drug,” Davis said. “Others saw what they were doing and decided to make some money as well.”
The opioids led people to seek other ways, if not through a prescription, to get the drugs. He said that in some parts of the country, opioids evolved into their own form of currency
When the tobacco settlement was reached years ago, states got all the money and local communities saw very little of the money. According to Davis, that prompted these opioid lawsuits by over 2,000 cities and counties that experienced loss of productivity, increased court usage, an increase in jail population, an increase in homelessness leading to the need for more and more social services.
He said state attorneys general want control of the money but the cities and counties want control of the disbursements.
“The projection is that the state would get 15%, the cities and counties would get 15% and then 70%, the judge is trying to say, should go back to the local communities for treatment,” he said.
Under the formula for every billion dollars in the settlement, Rome would get around $64,000 and Floyd County would get $171,000, Davis said.
“There is still work to be done, problems still exist,” Davis said.
He doesn’t expect any kind of final settlement before the end of 2020.