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Opioid lawsuits

OxyContin pills are arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont. Six Wyoming-based lawsuits against opioid makers and distributors have been transferred to a federal court in Ohio.

The last of six federal lawsuits filed by Wyoming cities, counties and the Northern Arapaho Tribe against major opioid makers and distributors has been transferred to a federal court in Ohio, where settlement talks continue to swirl as the number of municipalities suing the companies tops 2,000.

The six federal suits here — filed by Casper, Cheyenne, Carbon County, Sweetwater County, Rock Springs and the tribe — will all be worked up in Ohio as part of the sprawling litigation there. But should the suits ever go to a jury trial, those proceedings will be held here, attorneys have said. Meanwhile, the state of Wyoming has filed its own lawsuit against Purdue, the maker of OxyContin and the pharma giant widely considered to be the catalyst for the epidemic of opioid abuse in America. That lawsuit has been filed in state court, where a judge is considering Purdue’s request that the lawsuit be dismissed.

There will likely be more Wyoming lawsuits filed in federal court in the coming weeks and months, said Jason Ochs, the Jackson-based attorney who’s responsible for all of the Equality State litigation save for the Arapaho and Sweetwater County suits.

Ochs declined to comment on any settlement discussions. But he said there are “five counties in Ohio” that are going to trial against the opioid-related companies in October, proceedings that he and the legion of other attorneys involved are preparing for. He added that settlements for some of the entities suing the companies would likely be “closer to September.”

“There’s certainly a large number of defendants taking a very hard stance right now with respect to any settlement talks,” he said. “I would not anticipate a global settlement before October. But I would anticipate individual settlements before October.”

The lawsuits have wrapped up a wide swath of the pharmaceutical industry, from opioid manufacturers like Purdue and fentanyl maker Janssen to pharmacies like Walgreens and Walmart. Ochs added that Casper’s lawsuit was amended before it was sent to federal court to include the Sackler family, the patriarchs who turned Purdue into the opioid empire it is today.

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Members of the family reportedly are contributing to a $270 million settlement agreed to between Purdue and the state of Oklahoma, according to NPR. That case settled last month, the first settlement in the recent wave of litigation. The Sacklers have since been named in other suits, including by the state of New York, which described the family as “masterminds” of an allegedly illicit scheme that “literally profited off of the suffering and death” of Americans, according to NPR.

Purdue is reportedly considering bankruptcy in an attempt to mitigate the looming cost of litigation. The company made $1.8 billion in 2017, down from $2.8 billion in 2012, per Bloomberg.

Ochs, the Jackson attorney, said the settlements from the opioid-related companies would benefit counties and municipalities much more than the tobacco settlements of yesteryear. He said in the tobacco cases, much of the money was distributed to states’ attorneys general to divvy up. But because smaller entities have jumped into these suits themselves, he said, any settlement money will benefit them directly.

A contract approved by the Casper City Council in December indicates the city will not pay Ochs’ firm should the litigation fail. Should there be a settlement or verdict, Casper will receive at least 65 percent of the proceedings.

Ochs said that municipalities and entities will almost certainly have broad authority to use any money they gain from the lawsuits as they see fit.

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Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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