Rite Aid settles bellwether opioid case with Ohio counties

A Rite Aid store is shown in Los Angeles, California
A Rite Aid store at 1841 North Western Avenue is shown at in Los Angeles, California. REUTERS/Mike Blake
  • Settlement allows Rite Aid to avoid October trial
  • No terms disclosed
  • County officials must still approve the deal

(Reuters) - Rite Aid Corp affiliates have settled claims by two Ohio counties that it contributed to the opioid addiction epidemic, just over a month before the case was set to go to trial.

The pharmacy chain operator and Lake and Trumbull counties disclosed the settlement in a motion filed Wednesday in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, to sever Rite Aid from the case. They did not reveal terms of the deal, which must be approved by Lake County Commissioners and Trumbull County Commissioners.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster granted the motion on Thursday.

Frank Gallucci of Plevin & Gallucci, a lawyer for the counties, had no immediate comment. Rite Aid and its lawyer Kelly Moore of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The judge is presiding over a multidistrict litigation including more than 3,000 cases over opioids brought by local governments around the country against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies. The two counties' case against Rite Aid and others was chosen as a bellwether, or test case, of public nuisance claims against pharmacies.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Walmart Inc remain as defendants in the trial, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 4. The counties accuse them of overlooking red flags that opioids were being illegally diverted.

The pharmacies previously reached a settlement with two counties in New York, where another trial is currently under way, but have yet to propose a nationwide settlement of opioid claims against them. They face another trial next year in a case brought by San Franciso.

Other defendants in the opioid litigation have moved in recent months to resolve the claims against them.

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and the nation's top three drug distributors - McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp and Cardinal Health Inc - have offered to pay a combined $26 billion to settle local government's claims against them. However, as of Monday, at least six states had not signed on to that deal, putting the full amount in jeopardy.

In addition to the pharmacies, drugmakers AbbVie Inc, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and Endo International Inc have not reached nationwide opioid settlements.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its creditors, meanwhile, are seeking approval of a settlement in bankruptcy court that the company values at more than $10 billion.

The cases are County of Lake, Ohio v. Purdue Pharma LP et al, No. 18-op-45032, and County of Trumbull, Ohio v. Purdue Pharma LP et al, No. 18-op-45079, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

For the counties: Frank Gallucci of Plevin & Gallucci

For Rite Aid: Kelly Moore of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

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Thomson Reuters

Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.