COLUMBUS — Saying “you have to pay up” for deaths caused and addicts created, Attorney General Mike DeWine is giving drug makers and distributors 30 days to begin negotiating a financial settlement to improve opioid treatment and prevention in Ohio.
DeWine announced Monday he has sent letters to five drug companies he now is suing for damages and to three drug distributors, including Dublin-based Cardinal Health, to pay their “fair share” for an opioid crisis that claimed 4,050 lives last year, a 33-percent increase from 2015.
“I intend to do everything in my power to make them come to the table and to make them pay for what they have done. There must be justice,” DeWine said.
“These drug companies have laid waste to our state as only the worst plague could do,” DeWine said. “They have destroyed families, they have made children orphans, they have weakened our economy and they have caused parents to do the worst thing they have to do, and that is to bury their own children.
“Despite making billions, billions of dollars, for these drugs, they done comparatively little” to help fight and treat opioid addiction first fueled for many by pain-pill prescriptions, he said.
DeWine had not previously revealed that he would sue drug distributors for their role in the sale of pain pills, but heavily hinted at such a move.
“We’re very close to a decision and announcement whether we file a lawsuit against” the drug distributors, which also include McKesson and Amerisource Bergen, for “flooding the state with pills that they knew far exceeded legitimate medical need,” DeWine said.
DeWine said any payments received from pharmaceutical companies and distributors would be used to help ease the opioid crisis, which has evolved from pain pills to heroin to deadly fentanyl.
Cuyahoga County and Dayton — along with Toledo, which sued on Monday — also have sued the drug industry.
The attorney general, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, Monday proposed a 12-point “Recovery Ohio” plan that could benefit from any financial settlement with drug companies and distributors.
DeWine proposes to:
•Get a bill passed that would give the governor authority to declare a public health emergency, target funding where needed and accelerate occupational licenses to help fight opioid addiction.
•Create an opioid data gathering and analytics system to share with Ohio’s nearly 1,000 law enforcement agencies.
•Expand drug task forces to help fight the importation of drugs by Mexican cartels and others.
•Create at least 60 more specialized drug courts to help route more people into treatment. Franklin County has such a court.
•Double the availability of substance-abuse treatment beds by working with hospitals and local treatment agencies.
•Create a pilot program with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to encourage employers to treat and hire addicts in recovery.
•Establish a cabinet-level administrator to coordinate state action on the opioid crisis.
•Provide age-appropriate drug education in Ohio schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
•Implement a statewide drug prevention campaign including media and social media components.
•Expand family-centered early intervention programs involving children in foster care due to family opioid abuse.