Reckoning with U.S. opioid crisis as $8 billion Ohio trial kicks off

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Who bears the responsibility for the opioid crisis in this country two decades and more than two hundred thousand overdose deaths later today is the first in the opioid epidemic that aims to answer that crucial question the first landmark federal opioid trial begins this morning in Cleveland six companies that earn billions of dollars making distributing and selling opioids are being sued by two counties in Ohio the trial is seen as a bellwether test the jury's decision will establish liability for the entire drug industry for the role that it played fueling the epidemic north country public radio's Brian man covers opioid litigation for NPR he joins us from Cleveland Brian thanks for being here hi Rachel these companies being sued include some big names Walgreens McKesson cardinal health they were all hoping to avoid a trial right to try to negotiate a cell as a settlement even up to the last minute what happened why couldn't they get that done yeah I was pretty intense in the last days top executives flew her to Cleveland to meet with the judge overseeing this case and a source involved with the talks told NPR companies were offering a billion dollars a year over the next eighteen years and also offering to donate billions of dollars worth of prescription drugs to be used to help people suffering from addiction that sounds like a lot but given the scope of this epidemic you know hundreds of thousands of Americans dead many more suffering now from addiction communities and some state attorneys general they just wanted companies to pay more so now the trial's going forward thousands of communities obviously are going to be watching this just describe what's on the line for them yeah I've been speaking over the last year to a lot of local officials and first responders medical professionals and they just said they need money to fight this epidemic to pay for things like law enforcement in hospitals and foster care programs a lot of people are still dying in this epidemic so if there is a big payout that money could say lot save lives critics of the drug into he said there's something else at stake here too Rachel a sense of accountability and justice Kathryn Clark is a congresswoman I spoke with in Massachusetts we have to make an example of this corporate greed that delivered such devastation to communities throughout this country so you know there's a lot of anger out there this trial's going to test whether that anger really translates into arguments that hold up in court I should add the Johnson and Johnson lost a civil trial this summer in a state court in Oklahoma so you know if the industry loses again here in this federal court it will start to look like a trans so how do they avoid that what arguments of the companies making what the big argument is that they're selling a highly regulated product that you can't buy without a prescription the federal government did know all along how many pills they were selling so you know the companies are going to make the case to this jury that it was a regulatory failure a government tell your and and not a corporate failure I understand there's a new argument being made here by the communities who are are doing the suing in in this case it's it's around a public nuisance claim can you explain this yeah this is actually fascinating rates on it could have big ramifications he's opioid lawsuits claim the drug companies created a public nuisance selling these medications so aggressively public nuisance laws never been used in exactly this way before so this parts experimental and some conservative legal thinkers especially those working for the drug industry hope the jury won't go for it they say the job of solving big public problems like the opioid epidemic should belong to state legislatures and Congress not the courts here's Luther strange is a former Republican senator from Alabama now a private attorney working for members of the Sackler family who own Purdue pharma he spoke about these public nuisance lawsuits to a gathering of the federalist society I've read actually written on this recently it's because it is a blooming problem it comes up the system it prevents the ease of settlement of large cases now and just in the opioid world you have two thousand towns and cities and municipalities now she's a pretty form is not on trial in this case they filed for bankruptcy last month so their liabilities being hashed out in a different court but this federal trials can impact the rest of the industry testing whether thousands of these public nuisance lawsuits will hold up if they do hold up in this court the payouts could be on the scale of the tobacco settlements of the

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