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Denver among select cities, counties seeking to negotiate national opioid settlement in historic legal request

DENVER – To account for the human and financial toll of the nation’s opioid addiction crisis, the City and County of Denver joined other U.S. municipalities in asking a federal judge this morning to create a unique “Negotiation Class” to speed along and maximize settlement talks with opioid drug manufacturers.

“I applaud our City Attorney’s Office in supporting this creative, unprecedented legal request,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “Denver and cities across the country are bearing the economic burden of prescription opioid abuse, and these dollars will go a long way toward ending the needless suffering of our residents who are losing loved ones to this crisis.”

The 67-page motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, Ohio, where the National Prescription Opiate Litigation is centralized, seeks an innovative alternative to the traditional settlement process by allowing these initial 40 U.S. cities and counties, including Denver, to lead negotiations on behalf of the whole country early in the court process.  Denver is among more than 1,800 cities and counties that previously filed individual lawsuits.

“The goal is to fashion settlements that extract the maximum amounts possible – in dollars and in changed practices – from the defendants, and that accomplish the fair allocation of the settlement funds among the Class,” the motion reads.

If approved by the judge, this would be the first “Negotiation Class” in U.S. history, reflecting the unique nature of the national opioid litigation.

“Typically, class settlement negotiations occur toward the end of the court process, which can leave some feeling voiceless,” Denver Assistant City Attorney Reneé A. Goble, who’s managing Denver’s involvement in the litigation said.  “In this case, because cities and counties will be able to quantify the damage opioids have done, it makes sense to present those needs and costs early in the settlement process than later.  Also, through this negotiating class all of the stakeholders will be included at the outset, and this will give the Defendants a sense that they can achieve ‘global peace,’ which will make resolution more likely.”

Dozens of attorneys – private and public – are behind the motion, which would give voting power to every city or county interested in a portion of a national opioid settlement.  The voting structure, modeled upon a similar process in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, would require a 75-percent supermajority of the participating cities and counties to approve of a final, national settlement.

The allocation of settlement funds would be done on a county-by-county basis, using federal data, rooted in a formula with three quantifiable factors, weighted equally, beginning in 2008:

1.)    The amount of opioids distributed within the county

2.)    The number of opioid deaths that occurred in the county

3.)    The number of people who suffer opioid use disorder in the county.

A county and the cities within it may share the funds allocated to the county in any manner they choose.  If the county and cities cannot agree, then a default allocation formula will apply, unless a Special Master assigned by the Court to resolve disputes in the litigation accepts a different formula submitted for consideration.

The model is designed not to favor small or large counties based solely on population.  Ultimately, the model allocates settlement funds to communities hit hardest by the opioid addiction crisis.

In Denver, the latest data from the Office of the Medical Examiner shows 1,177 people have died from opioid-related overdoses between 2008 and 2018.  The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment continues to actively monitor deaths from overdose and to implement Denver’s first Opioid Response Strategic Plan, which includes proactive measures to ultimately save lives.

Denver joined 14 other Colorado communities or agencies in filing suit against opioid drug manufacturers in January.  Denver would maintain that collaboration and negotiate on behalf of those communities in Colorado in the requested Negotiation Class.

If approved, the Negotiation Class would not have an impact on any other current or future litigation with drug manufacturers.

The 40 Negotiation Class representatives currently include:

1.)    County of Albany, New York

2.)    City of Atlanta, Georgia

3.)    Bergen County, New Jersey

4.)    Broward County, Florida

5.)    Camden County, New Jersey

6.)    Cass County, North Dakota

7.)    City of Chicago, Illinois

8.)    Cobb County, Georgia

9.)    Cumberland County, Maine

10.) Cuyahoga County, Ohio

11.) City of Delray Beach, Florida

12.) Denver, Colorado

13.) East Baton Rouge Parish / City of Baton Rouge, Louisiana

14.) Escambia County, Florida

15.) Essex County, New Jersey

16.) Franklin County, Ohio

17.) County of Gooding, Idaho

18.) The City of Grand Forks, North Dakota

19.) County of Jefferson, Alabama

20.) Jefferson County / Louisville, Kentucky

21.) Jersey City, New Jersey

22.) Kanawha County, West Virginia

23.) King County, Washington

24.) The City of Los Angeles

25.) City of Lowell, Massachusetts

26.) City of Manchester, New Hampshire

27.) Maricopa County, Arizona

28.) Mecklenburg County, North Carolina

29.) Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

30.) The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee

31.) Monterey County, California

32.) County of Palm Beach, Florida

33.) Phoenix, Arizona

34.) Prince George’s County, Maryland

35.) Riverside County, California

36.) City of Saint Paul, Minnesota

37.) San Francisco, California

38.) Summit County, Ohio

39.) County of Tulsa, Oklahoma

40.) Wayne County, Michigan