FILE PHOTO: A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin at a local pharmacy in Provo
By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - A federal judge pushing for a quick settlement of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors by U.S. cities and counties is seeking to meet with states that are separately suing and probing the companies, Ohio's attorney general said on Thursday.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he also held meetings on Wednesday with Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd to discuss settling a lawsuit he filed accusing them of deceptively marketing opioids.
That lawsuit, like others by state attorneys general, is in a state court outside the purview of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who is overseeing more than 200 lawsuits by cities, counties and others over the opioid epidemic.
In a move that could help the companies reach global settlements, DeWine said Polster on Wednesday invited him to attend a Jan. 31 meeting as a representative of the 13 states who have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.
"I think the judge is right that we can settle this matter," DeWine said in an interview.
Opioids were involved in over 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A wave of lawsuits have accused drugmakers of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing and wholesale distributors of failing to report suspicious drug orders.
DeWine, a Republican who is running for governor in Ohio, said Polster told him he is also reaching out to attorneys general who have not sued and are instead conducting a multistate investigation of the companies.
An assistant to Polster declined to comment. Johnson & Johnson in a statement called settlement talks with states attorneys general confidential and the allegations against it "baseless and unsubstantiated." Teva declined to comment.
Polster's outreach to state attorneys general followed a hearing on Tuesday where he told lawyers that he wanted to "do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018."
"I don't think anyone in the country is interested in a whole lot of finger-pointing at this point, and I'm not either," he said.
After a lawyer for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP noted it was fighting cases not before Polster, the judge said he could "pick up the phone and call any state attorney general I want and invite him or them to be involved."
Other defendants include Endo International PLC, Allergan PLC, AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown and Richard Chang)