Ohio AG may take over local opioid lawsuits; Dayton mayor says it’s a ‘terrible idea’

Lawmakers are considering giving Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost exclusive authority to file and settle civil lawsuits over statewide issues, including pending litigation filed against the pharmaceutical industry over the cost of the opioid addiction crisis.

Related: Gee, Kasich want opioid lawsuit money to flow to hospitals

The four-page bill calls for depositing settlement money into a statewide fund and earmarking 5% for the attorney general’s office and 5% for outside attorneys who worked the case — lawyers who are hired by the attorney general. State lawmakers would determine distribution of the remainder, with at least 20 percent going to local jurisdictions impacted by the issue.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley called it a “terrible idea” and Louis Tobin of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys said “It’s an infringement on county prosecutors and it’s an infringement on home rule authority.”

“Cities and counties that individually race to the courthouse, hoping for the luck of the draw and attempting to get any money that they can, are grasping for power,” Yost said in a written statement. “This is a state claim with statewide impact and should not be divided amongst political subdivisions. The interests of the state of Ohio are much greater than the sum of the interests of its political subdivisions. A consolidated claim allows for broad representation in this fight for the greater good so that we can fairly deliver equitable relief to communities based on impact.”

The bill has yet to be introduced in either legislative chamber.

It is the latest signal of the brewing fight over who will control and spend money that may come from thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid makers, distributors and retailers.

In 2017, then Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine filed suit in Ross County against drugmakers and distributors. Dayton and Montgomery counties also filed suit. Roughly 2,000 federal lawsuits are consolidated and pending before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland.

Related: DeWine to drug makers: It’s time to settle

Earlier this week a judge in Oklahoma ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million for the company’s role in the opioid addiction crisis.

Accidental drug overdoses killed 28,353 people in Ohio between 2005 and 2017, including 20,408 fatalities linked to opioids, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

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