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Tuesday, 03 December 2019 13:39

U.S. regions hard hit by opioids to ditch class action, pursue own lawsuits

Written by Reuters
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WILMINGTON, Del(Reuters) - Local governments in regions hard hit by the U.S. opioid epidemic have opted out of massive litigation taking aim at the drug industry over the crisis, potentially weakening a novel legal mechanism created to help settle thousands of lawsuits.

Overall, 98% of some 34,000 local governments agreed to be bound by a class action against companies such as drug distributor McKesson Corp (MCK.N), drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (WBA.O), according to a Monday court filing.

However, the 541 local governments that opted out included Florida’s Palm Beach County and counties in West Virginia, according to attorneys, raising the prospect that companies could face expensive trials even if they settled with the class. The two regions are among the hardest hit by the crisis, which has contributed to more than 400,000 deaths since 1997.

Officials from Houston’s Harris County, one of the largest U.S. counties, have said it would opt out, meaning they would pursue their own lawsuit and not receive funds from a nationwide settlement.

The court filing did not identify opt-outs.

U.S. Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who has been overseeing 2,600 consolidated opioid lawsuits, is pushing hard for a settlement to help get funds to those most in need in a timely fashion.

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