CLEVELAND — The nation’s three dominant drug distributors and a big drugmaker have reached a tentative deal to settle a lawsuit related to the opioid crisis just as the first federal trial over the crisis was due to begin Monday, according to a lead lawyer for the local governments suing the drug industry.

The tentative deal, details of which were to be announced later Monday, settles claims brought by the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit against distributors AmerisourceBergen (ABC), Cardinal Health (CAH) and McKessen and the manufacturer Teva.

After five drug manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), reached settlements leading up to the trial, it became clear that the focus would be largely on the behavior of the distributors. Opening arguments were scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

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It was not immediately clear whether the federal trial in Cleveland would go forward with the two remaining defendants — distributor Henry Schein and pharmacy chain Walgreens (WBA). Lawyers, journalists and spectators packed courtroom and two overflow rooms, forming lines dozens deep before the courtroom opened at 8 a.m.

The deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and was confirmed to The Associated Press by Paul Hanly, a lead lawyer for the local governments suing the drug industry.

The trial was to be a test case for legal issues involved in thousands of lawsuits brought against players in the opioid industry by state and local governments, Native American tribes, hospitals and other entities.

The plaintiffs say distributors failed to uphold a requirement that they stop suspicious orders of controlled substances from being shipped. Federal data released as part of the litigation shows that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were shipped to U.S. pharmacies from 2006 to 2012, with shipments continuing to grow even after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warned the drug industry about the increasing misuse of prescription opioids.

An Associated Press analysis found that in 2012, enough of the powerful and addictive painkillers were shipped for every man, woman and child in the U.S. to have nearly a 20-day supply.

The lawsuit also alleged that drugmakers improperly marketed opioids to prescribers, overselling the benefits and understating the risks of a class of drugs that has been known for centuries to be addictive.

The judge overseeing the federal litigation had long pushed for settlements that would not only provide for damages for the plaintiffs, but also change practices as a way to make a dent in the opioid crisis.

The epidemic has become more complicated in the past decade, with fatal overdose numbers rising largely because of illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. Overall, there have been more than 400,000 deaths linked to opioids in the U.S. since 2000.

The settlement efforts until now have been mixed.

Four drugmakers reached deals only with the two Ohio counties — enough to get them out of the first trial, but leaving unresolved the claims from communities across the country.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma reached a tentative settlement last month that could be worth up to $12 billion over time. But half the states and hundreds of local governments oppose it. The company is now going through federal bankruptcy proceedings in White Plains, New York, creating the possibility that its settlement offer could be renegotiated.

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  • With this settlement agreement, who will get part of these settlements? Families, patients, government, states? Or will it be divided up equally? I’m doubting it will be equal as far as families an patients are concerned. I wish everyone would start calling this “EPIDEMIC” what it is and that’s a heroin and fentynal epidemic! By using the term opioid, you give the misconception of it being caused from prescription pain meds when it is not now! Yes in the begging it was a major problem but that is NOT the case now!! Now there is a chronic pain epidemic! Patients are being forced off of their medications that have helped them for years!
    This war against drugs has left chronic intractible pain patients alone, forgotten, and no one is looking at this side of it. No one is looking, talking about this. Patients in pain have been forgotten. It’s time to step up and really take a hard look at these patients who are suffering needlessly.
    Patients in pain are not being heard, or seen. It’s time for everyone to start listening to the thousands of voices screaming in pain. Thousands of Chronic pain patients are NOT addicted, nor do they have an opioid disorder. They suffer with rare, incurable, debilitating pain diseases such as Adhesive Arachnoiditis, Tarlov Cyst Disease, chronic regional pain syndrome, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, EDS, cancer, fibromyalgia, just to name a few! Stop punishing patients in pain for this “drug epidemic” they had no part in creating. No one asks to have these diseases, but we have them all the same.
    I had many patients tell me that an addict can get help when trying to get clean, but those who suffer with these diseases have NO HELP. Sadly it is very true. Patients in pain are the forgotten ones. It’s time it STOPS!

    • Yes, I agree with the other comment about chronic pain sufferers as being one myself. I do not take opioids, but those who do and it has helped them have so much less pain relief now. Tarlov Cyst Disease is one of the rare diseases and no doctor in the state of Ohio I know of will properly treat them — no more needles in the spine!! They tell us that they rarely cause pain and are incidental findings on MRIs. It is so disgusting to hear that from doctors who know a patient is suffering and they can just walk away. So, we go through enough insults and being left to figure it out on our own. Where is the outcry for our problems? That’s right nowhere. We aren’t drug addicts. I would much rather not have my disease than live as I do. Those who really need these drugs and have used them responsibly should be able to get them. Thank you.