Attorney: Opioid settlement looks favorable for Chelan County

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WENATCHEE — A settlement looks more likely for a Chelan County lawsuit against national opioid manufacturers and sellers, after key defendants offered to settle Monday in a related federal case.

Four drug companies agreed today to settle a federal lawsuit brought by two Ohio counties, for their part in distributing opioid painkillers that led to a wave of addiction and more than 47,000 deaths in 2017 alone. Those cases are related to a suit filed by Chelan County last year, seeking damages for opioid-related addictions and injuries in the county.

Manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson pledged to pay $260 million. All four are named in Chelan County’s suit, which was rolled in among 2,000 lawsuits brought by municipalities related to the opioid crisis. Daniel Mensher, a Seattle attorney representing Chelan County as well as other communities in Washington, said the Ohio lawsuits are “bellwether” cases that indicate a likely settlement for Washington plaintiffs.

“This, I think, is a really good sign,” Mensher said. “We feel very good that this is a good step toward reaching a global resolution.”

Chelan County’s lawsuit, filed in September 2018, cites impacts from the opioid crisis including increased deaths by abuse, from 22 such deaths between 1999 and 2003 to 46 between 2009 and 2013; a 57-percent spike in dependency-treatment admissions between 2002 and 2013; and increased numbers of homeless residents, from five homeless households in Chelan and Douglas counties in 2013 to 370 in 2017.

“In my opinion, anyway, the moral issues here are really straightforward: We have some defendants who engaged in some really horrendous activities, and profited incredibly handsomely from it,” Mensher said. “But unfortunately, litigation like this is very complicated. I hope that we are on the verge of really resolving all of these things.”

The manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, already agreed to settle 2,000 lawsuits from municipalities including Chelan County. However, any local share of that settlement — which is valued at $10 billion — hasn’t yet been determined.