The federal judge in Cleveland overseeing a massive set of lawsuits over the opioid crisis has approved a plan that could allow communities nationwide to benefit from drug company settlements and court judgements.
The decision comes amid news that one of the defendants, Purdue Pharma, is nearing a settlement with more than 2,000 local governments.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster on Wednesday approved the creation of a "negotiation class," allowing counties and municipalities across the country to approve settlements and divide any payouts.
State attorneys general had opposed the plan, saying it infringes on their powers to negotiate on behalf of their residents.
Polster wrote his order would not allow local governments to negotiate against the states. While drug companies can choose to negotiate with this new class, he wrote, they aren't required to.
Meanwhile, in a statement released Wednesday, the lead plaintiffs' attorneys said they're recommending that their local government clients move forward to finalize a settlement with Purdue.
"We believe that this settlement would bring desperately needed recovery resources into local communities that, for years, have been forced to shoulder the devastating consequences and financial burden of the opioid epidemic," the statement reads. "We look forward to sharing more details about the resolution's structure and terms in the near term."
Purdue declined to offer details on the terms of the potential settlement, saying only that it was talking with plaintiffs about resolving the claims and delivering "billions of dollars" to communities around the country.
Drug maker Mallinckrodt reached a $30 million settlement with Summit and Cuyahoga counties last week and in a similar agreement in principle, Endo International and Allergan also settled with both counties in August.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who has moved to put the federal opioid litigation on hold, released a statement Wednesday afternoon suggesting the settlement was the state's best shot at a resolution with a company on the verge of bankruptcy.
"The proposed settlement with Purdue provides the greatest certainty for all Ohioans to receive relief as quickly as possible in light of rumored bankruptcy," Dave O'Neil, a spokesman for Yost's office, wrote in an email. "AG Yost continues to fight to get resources for those impacted statewide and has been actively involved in the negotiations."