Home Money Pharmaceutical company settles with Ohio counties, millions paid out

Pharmaceutical company settles with Ohio counties, millions paid out

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Two major counties in Ohio are at the forefront of the latest battle against the opioid epidemic, following a large opioid manufacturer’s agreement to pay each $24 million.

Recent legal filings showed that Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a major Irish pharmaceutical company, accounted for a quarter of all the opioids dispensed in both Cuyahoga and Summit Counties between 2006 and 2012.

Twenty-nine pills were distributed for each resident in Cuyahoga County and 44 pills were distributed per resident in Summit County for each year between 2006 and 2012, Cleveland.com reported.

Drug Enforcement Administration and government lawyers previously pursued a lawsuit against Mallinckrodt in order to hold the company responsible for its role in the opioid epidemic. That effort resulted in a $35 million settlement from Mallinckrodt to the plaintiffs. 

The recent lawsuit is intended to be a litmus test to determine how drug companies may behave in the future amid the 2,300 legal battles they are currently embroiled in, according to The New York Times.

A lawsuit at the county level also creates further precedent for how solutions can be worked out in other localized settlements, said Daniel Skinner, an assistant professor in health policy at Ohio University.

“The fact that it’s being handled in the county sets the standard for replicability,” Skinner said. “This is going to be a long road. Right now, Mallicnkrodt is putting a flag in the ground and saying ‘this is how we’re going to behave.”

A big part of lawsuits against drug companies is settlement money paid to the affected communities. In addition to the $24 million allocated between Cuyahoga and Summit counties, Mallinckrodt also promised to donate $6 million worth of drugs — including addiction treatment medications — to both counties.

Lawyers involved in the case stated the settlement would help provide the counties with, what they referred to as, “critically needed resources,” but it will ultimately be up to the state or local governments to decide what those resources would entail.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recently began working with Republican lawmakers on legislation that would give the Ohio General Assembly authority over 90% of any damage payments received from consolidated lawsuits. Meanwhile, local governments favor a plan that could give county governments more control over settlement money distribution.

Many areas in Ohio need more funding and attention paid to public health, said Berkeley Franz, an assistant professor in community-based health at Ohio U.

In particular, many areas in the state require increased treatment and harm reduction services, such as access to Narcan and clean needle programs, Berkeley said. She also pointed out that Ohio increasingly needs long term social support services, particularly for children who are suffering from addiction-related trauma.

Communities impacted by opioids also may need help rebuilding their economy, infrastructure and school systems, Skinner said.

Much of this concern stems from local communities being unsure if the state will provide resources that will be helpful at the county level, Franz said.

 Many advocates point to previous nationwide lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers in the 1990s — many of which resulted in settlement money being taken from anti-smoking initiatives and were instead distributed to unrelated state programs.

While Franz believes the state will do its own research on how to distribute the settlement funds, listening to local perspectives is also vital to the distribution process, she said.

“Opioid abuse can be painted with a very broad brush of what people need, but it’s different in different areas and how they’re affected,” Franz said. “So I think state allocation needs to be sensitive to local communities and what they need to use the money for. I think the process should provide a lot of people at the table.”

Skinner pointed out that because the Mallinckrodt lawsuit is focused on solving issues at a county level, there is a higher likelihood that settlement money could be used locally. Skinner also believes this outcome could ultimately have innovative long-term effects for local communities. 

“One of the promises of the American republic was that counties will do different things and we can innovate a bit,” Skinner said. “There’s a real chance here since Ohio is leading the way with this Mallinckrodt suit, it can also lead in coming up with creative ways to use this money to do transformative things.”

Franz views these lawsuits as an opportunity for drug companies to take responsibility and put their resources into rebuilding and supporting communities affected by opioids, and provide the chance for medical professionals to become more cautious with their prescriptions and how they treat patients with opioids.

The professor, however, pointed out that while the settlement can assist in paying back the estimated $78 million the epidemic has cost communities in medical care, addiction treatment, and legal expenses nationwide, increased healthcare and social services do not make up for the more human aspects of the crisis.

The opioid epidemic has killed more than 400,000 people in the past two decades, according to The Associated Press. For Franz, settlements against companies like Mallinckrodt are a way to attempt to make up for the permanent losses of life caused by the epidemic.

“It’s an abstract question of what it means to have someone be held accountable for causing real pain,” Franz said, “It shows the need for reimbursements and how these funds are important but it also shows the absurdity of this idea that you can pay back for the loss of lives and real trauma. There’s no real way to make up for that.”

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