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Denver to help lead settlement talks with defendants in national opioid lawsuits

Posted at 9:13 AM, Sep 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-13 12:45:50-04

DENVER – The city will help lead settlement talks with the defendants in numerous national lawsuits over the opioid crisis after a judge on Wednesday approved a negotiation class aimed at settling some of the cases in a quick fashion, the city attorney’s office said Thursday.

The announcement comes as Purdue Pharma says it has tentatively – and separately – agreed to settle with many of the municipalities and states that have filed various lawsuits against the company.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster, who is presiding over the litigation, approved the country's first negotiation class aimed at reaching settlements with the company and its owners.

“Settlement is important in any case,” he wrote in an order certifying the class. “Here, a settlement is especially important as it would expedite relief to communities so they can better address this devastating national health crisis.”

The negotiation class will include every city and county in the country except ones that choose to opt out by Nov. 29. Denver will be among 49 cities and counties that will serve as representatives for the class and will negotiate with any of the defendants in the suits that choose to do so.

Once a settlement deal has been tentatively reached, a 75% supermajority of the class must approve of the settlement amount, the city spokesperson said.

“Denver is still closely evaluating the proposed settlement to ensure that the Sacklers area held appropriately accountable for the devastation they caused,” City Attorney Kristin M. Bronson said in a statement.

If a settlement is reached with one of the defendants, a county or cities within that county may share the funds in any way they choose. The distribution of the money would be decided by several factors, including the number of opioids distributed in a municipality and the number of opioid-related deaths in that municipality since 2008.

If they can't agree on how to allocate the money, a “default allocation formula” would apply, unless a special arbitrator assigned by the court to resolve disputes accepts a different formula submitted for consideration, according to the city.

“Ultimately, the model would allocate settlement funds to communities hit hardest by the opioid addiction crisis irrespective of a county’s population,” the city spokesperson said.

Attorney General Phil Weiser Wednesday afternoon that Colorado had not agreed to settle with Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers as reports came out that the company and the family that owns it was seeking settlements with some of the municipalities that have sued.

“Colorado has not agreed to any settlement with Purdue Pharma or the Sackler Family,” Weiser said in a statement Wednesday. “No current offer adequately addresses the harm that Purdue and the Sacklers have caused to communities and individuals in Colorado by contributing to the opioid crisis. We will continue to work hard to hold them accountable and obtain an appropriate settlement or judgment to address the crisis.”

Denver said the formation of the negotiation class did not prevent further litigation against the opioid defendants from proceeding.

MORE: Colorado health officials, attorneys discuss next steps in addressing opioid epidemic

Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show almost 4,500 people died from opioid-related overdoses between 2000 and 2018 in Colorado, and another roughly 700 died from synthetic opioids.

The release of DEA records that tracked every opioid pill shipped to Colorado between 2006 and 2012 shows more than 1.5 billion pills flooded the state making an addiction crisis here inevitable.

From 2006 to 2012, those pharmaceutical companies shipped 53 million opioid pills to Douglas County, 140 million to Adams County, 188 million to Denver County, and Jefferson County led the metro area with 210 million opioid pills shipped during those seven years.

Overdose deaths fell slightly statewide in 2018 from the year prior, but it was still the second-deadliest year for overdose deaths on record.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Denver would help lead settlement talks with the opioid lawsuit defendants.