COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Any money Ohio might receive from a settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and other drugmakers should be spent at the local level, the state's top lawyer said Wednesday.
Republican Attorney General Dave Yost told reporters that so many of the agencies that are responding to the opioid crisis are not statewide, but local. He cited the foster care system, first responders, police departments and prosecutors' offices.
"So, as a practical matter, if we're going to use any of this money to fix the problem — which we absolutely ought to do — then it's going to have to go back to the local level," he said at an unrelated news conference.
In August, Yost sought to delay two Ohio counties' upcoming trials against drugmakers over the impacts of the national opioid epidemic — court proceedings viewed as potentially precedent-setting in holding the pharmaceutical industry responsible for the deadly epidemic tied to prescription painkillers, heroin and other opiates.
Yost's filing argued attempts to force drugmakers to pay should come in a single state action, to allow equal distribution of money across Ohio. Thirteen other states agreed.
But some of the roughly 2,000 local governments suing pharmaceutical makers worry states' efforts could take settlement dollars from their coffers.
Yost said Wednesday he didn't want his move to be misinterpreted. His intention, he said, in having the state lead the way in fighting drugmakers is not to take money from cities and counties, but to see that not only Summit and Cuyahoga counties — but all 88 Ohio counties— receive some compensation for what they've been through.
"I just want to be absolutely clear that my interest in the law, that it should be consolidated under Ohio's jurisdiction legally, does not change the fact that the money needs to be spent on the local level," he said. "Because the misery and the addiction isn't happening in (state government in) Columbus, it's happening in communities all the way across the state."
Michigan, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and the District of Columbia sided with Ohio's argument.
They say allowing local governments to lead the way undercuts states' abilities to enter binding agreements with drugmakers, as well as to protect the health and safety of their citizens.
"The economic stakes are profound," the states argue, as they seek recompense for the "incalculable" human toll.
"Cases like this one and those related come only once in a generation," they wrote. "The only analogy is the tobacco settlement."