Westmoreland County opts out of federal settlement against drugmakers, distributors
Westmoreland County wants no part of a tentative multibillion-dollar settlement to resolve opioid cases filed by thousands of local governments across the country.
Instead, it will focus on its own legal action against opioid manufacturers and distributors now pending in an eastern Pennsylvania court.
Commissioners on Friday formally opted out of the federal litigation that could involve more than 2,000 municipalities throughout the country. Attorneys are seeking a global settlement of all existing cases, and attorneys general from four states, including Pennsylvania, proposed $48 billion in payouts to resolve the lawsuits.
Friday was the deadline for governments to decide whether they would participate in federal settlement talks ongoing in Cleveland.
“The money being tossed around in these various lawsuits is extraordinary, and we’re trying to find the best deal for Westmoreland County,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.
The county in 2017 filed suit against several drugmakers, claiming their actions purposely fueled the opioid epidemic that resulted in record overdose deaths and large expenditures of public money to pay for the impacts of the drug crisis. Westmoreland County in 2016 alone spent nearly $19 million for law enforcement, investigations, incarceration, supervision and other programs directly related to drug addiction, a study by the county controller’s office found.
County lawyers recommended Westmoreland pursue its case in state court rather than participate in the federal litigation, Solicitor Melissa Guiddy said. Participating in the federal settlement talks would disqualify the county from pursuing its own lawsuit in state court.
Robert Peirce, a Pittsburgh lawyer, filed Westmoreland County’s lawsuit along with cases involving seven other Pennsylvania counties. He said all of his clients opted out of participating in federal settlement talks.
“We think the deal isn’t good enough. It’s top heavy for the states,” Peirce said.
The first of dozens of lawsuits filed by Pennsylvania municipalities is expected to go to trial early next year in Delaware County. A trial for Westmoreland’s lawsuit has not been scheduled.
“I do think they will ultimately all settle,” Peirce said. “They do not want to have a trial. We’ll keep the pressure on.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .