States Fight For Control Over Opioid Master Settlement

By Victoria Kim 08/07/19

A coalition of 39 state attorneys general signed a letter stating that the negotiations should be left up to the states, not local governments.

lawyers for the states fight for control over opioid master settlement
ID 95088044 © Andrei Rahalski |

With billions in payouts at stake, a national settlement between companies that manufacture and distribute opioid medication and municipalities across the United States that have sued for the companies’ alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis is being negotiated—but not without a fair share of hurdles to overcome.

On Tuesday (Aug. 6), Judge Dan Polster, the federal judge overseeing the lawsuits, expressed his support for an “ambitious” proposal to reach a resolution at a hearing in Cleveland. 

Inside The Proposal

The proposal, suggested by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, would allow “all 34,000 towns, cities and counties… to vote on settlement offers,” the New York Times reported. Whatever they vote on—if the offer is approved—will be the final outcome. After that, plaintiffs “will be bound by the outcome and can bring no further suits.”

The proposal would stop additional lawsuits and give each voting community a portion of the damages.

However, as the Times reported, state attorneys general have criticized the plan, arguing that the lawsuits filed by towns, cities and counties undermine the states’ efforts to reach a settlement with the drug companies. By contrast, the municipalities have hired private lawyers to handle the lawsuits.

A coalition of 39 state attorneys general signed a letter stating that the negotiations should be left up to the states, not local governments—i.e. it should be resolved “from the top down, not bottom up.”

“In my view, it’s the plaintiffs’ lawyers using local governments to hijack the sovereignty of the states and create ‘city states.’ But this is not the United City-States of America,” said Dave Yost, Ohio’s attorney general.

Local Municipalities Push Back

There’s a reason for the local municipalities’ decision to pursue a settlement on their own, the Times explained. With the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement reached by cigarette manufacturers and 46 states, a bulk of the $250 billion payout went to discretionary state spending rather than efforts to fix the damage inflicted by tobacco products like prevention and treatment programs.

“Still bitter about those outcomes, communities whose coffers had been depleted by the opioid crisis decided to sign with private lawyers, circumventing the states,” the Times reported.

In a recent op-ed, Mark A. Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, emphasized the importance of securing a portion of the settlement that will go to future safeguards against similar public health crises. 

“We must ensure that we do not squander the opportunity to address the opioid crisis through a coordinated public health approach in the next settlement,” he wrote.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr