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Yost: Too late to consolidate Ohio opioid lawsuits via legislation, other means possible

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Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has given up on consolidating local opioid lawsuits into the hands of the attorney general’s office through legislation, but he may seek other ways to get control.

“We are probably so far into this that it is impractical to have a legislative solution regarding the opiate crisis,” Yost told a crowd during the question and answer portion of a speech he gave at the City Club of Cleveland, which is a community center and a forum for debate.

There are more than 100 opioid-related lawsuits pending in Ohio against distributors and manufacturers for their role in the opioid crisis in the state.

Because the crisis affects the whole state, Yost has sought to consolidate those lawsuits into a statewide litigation effort. Although two lawmakers had considered granting the attorney general the legal authority to consolidate them under his control, the legislation was unpopular among local governments, and then Gov. Mike DeWine said he would likely veto that kind of legislation if it ever got to him.

Much of the debate has surrounded the settlement money. Local governments are pursuing their own trials so that they can spend any settlements or jury awards on their communities directly. Yost said that those who litigate first oftentimes get more money than others; he also expressed concern that smaller counties that were impacted heavily by the crisis may not get the money they deserve.

If the state were to control the settlement money, Yost said that the attorney general’s office would disperse some to local communities and spend the rest on statewide efforts to fight the opioid epidemic.

Although many local communities have said they will spend any settlement winnings on fighting opioid addiction in their region, Yost said that there are no legal requirements for them to do so. He called for guardrails in litigation pursued by localities and states that require the money earned to be used on such efforts.

Yost said that there may be other ways to achieve his goal.

“The [attorney general’s] office has litigation against both the [manufacturers] and the distributors from a statewide perspective,” Yost’s communications director, Bethany McCorkle, told The Center Square in an email. “We’ll continue to argue those cases.”

Two Ohio counties, Summit and Cuyahoga, reached a $260 million settlement deal with four companies affiliated with the opioid crisis this week. Both plan to spend the winnings on opioid addiction treatment and prevention efforts.

The attorney general’s office had tried to block the lawsuit, arguing to an appeals court that the lawsuit would get in the way of a statewide lawsuit. Although the appeals court rejected the appeal, the court did not rule that the attorney general’s argument was wrong, but rather said that the trial court should decide whether to proceed. It is not clear whether Yost will try this in other lawsuits.

“I’m going to see this thing through the end of the litigation,” Yost said, “but I’m going to make sure that the end of that litigation is going to be putting that money back on the streets in our local communities doing the smart things that we need to do to be able to turn this thing around.”