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Politics has clouded opioid suit settlement talks, Justice says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice acknowledged a possible opioid lawsuit settlement with pharmaceutical giant McKesson, but declined to say what he believes would be an appropriate amount.

“I’m aware, but I don’t know the specifics to know that there’s a settlement pending and all that kind of stuff in the next hours,” Justice said, responding to a question during a press conference today.

“I know all the parties working on it are trying to come to a fair settlement and a fair number. There’s no question that everybody that is involved is trying to work on just that.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The issue arose this week when Sen. Joe Manchin, at his own press conference, accused state officials of being on the verge of a “horrible deal” with McKesson Corp.

McKesson was sued by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a former lobbyist for a trade group that represents McKesson and other drug wholesalers, announced he was recusing himself from the lawsuit.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Morrisey, a Republican, is Manchin’s opponent in the U.S. Senate race that culminates Nov. 6.

Manchin claimed McKesson shareholders would be discussing the settlement today and that Morrisey planned a Friday press conference to hail an agreement.

Morrisey’s office has denied impending action on a settlement: “Contrary to Manchin’s statements, we have received no offer and there has been no scheduling of a Friday press conference by our office.”

Shareholders did discuss opioid litigation during today’s second quarter earnings call.

A second-quarter financial report released by McKesson today makes specific reference to a $34 million expense related to opioid litigation.

“Opioid-related costs represent primarily litigation expenses and other-related costs,” the company wrote.

The conference call described that amount as part of a broader cost of dealing with newly-passed requirements in New York, as well as the expense of fighting opioid lawsuits across the country.

Manchin had suggested the settlement amount in West Virginia would be $35 million. He characterized that amount as inadequate compared to the cost of opioid abuse in West Virginia.

“We can stop this, we truly can stop this, if Governor Justice and his administration steps up to block this deal and demands a fair amount in comparison to the damage that’s been done to the people of West Virginia,” Manchin said at his press conference this week.

Justice, responding to questions today, said the entire issue has been affected by the swirl of the impending election.

“Now the reality is, you know from a political standpoint we’re two weeks out from the election, and no matter what the number is, if tomorrow the number came out and it was $400 million it could very well be that one side would say ‘Well, that’s not enough,’ the governor said.

“All of a sudden that gets all kinds of press and there’s all kinds of hoopla because we’re two weeks away from an election. If the number comes back $800 million — ‘Well, that’s not enough.’ But the realistic number may be $45 million.”

Appearing today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Morrisey referenced his earlier recusal but also called Manchin’s assessment of the settlement situation dishonest.

“I honestly don’t know the answer to the question because I’m not involved in the case. I stepped away from the case,” Morrisey said.

“Joe Manchin, once again, very dishonest. He went on the air just making stuff up as he goes along. He should go back to being a carpet salesman because he knows nothing about settlements and opioid lawsuits.”

Morrisey made reference to earlier settlements between the State of West Virginia and drug manufacturers accused of contributing to opioid addiction problems.

Last year, Cardinal Health paid $20 million to settle a lawsuit with the state.

Another drug company, AmerisourceBergen, agreed to pay $16 million.

“Let’s look at the past. If you look at the record-breaking settlements, there have never been such large drug settlements in the history of the state of West Virginia,” Morrisey said today.

“Whatever the settlement amount, they’re record breaking, and we should hold companies accountable.”

McKesson reported revenues of $208 billion for the most recent fiscal year.

Justice said he would like to take politics out of the settlement calculation.

“I know just that today there’s just too much politics in a number,” the governor said. “Our people need to work through and come up with what’s achievable and what’s fair.”

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