California’s attorney general signaled that he expected to play a major role in settling a nationwide legal fight over the opioid crisis even though the state hasn’t been as hard-hit as others.
Drugmakers and pharmaceutical wholesalers are facing more than 1,000 lawsuits by U.S. states, counties and cities over their marketing and distribution of prescription painkillers. While the addiction and overdose crisis in California hasn’t been as acute as in other parts of the country, at least 30 cities and counties there have sued the industry.
“It would be hard to see a multistate settlement that would not include California,” said Xavier Becerra in an interview with Bloomberg News in New York on Tuesday. “That’s almost always the case in almost every litigation, because if you don’t get California in your settlement, you still face a monumental task with a lot of potential plaintiffs.”
More than 40 attorneys general, including Becerra, are holding talks with the companies on a potential pact. Any settlement could exceed $50 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Becerra said in the interview that he is prepared to reach a solution through a settlement or litigation.
“We believe that there is a desire on the part of some in the industry to resolve this,” he said. “And the sooner we’re able to come up with a good solution, the better it is for everyone because people are dying as we speak.”
The suits by counties and municipalities in California have been consolidated with other lawsuits in Cleveland into what’s known as multidistrict litigation.
In 2016, the state recorded 4.9 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 persons, compared with a national rate of 13.3 deaths, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Prescription opioid-related overdose deaths in California peaked in 2009 but have leveled off in the past two years, according to state data.
Last week, President Donald Trump said he wants the U.S. government to file its own lawsuit against companies that manufacture opioids, rather than join the existing litigation.
“I don’t think he knew what he was talking about,” Becerra said.
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