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Cincinnati Will Sign On To State-Negotiated Settlement With Opioid Distributors

cincinnati city hall
Jason Whitman

Cincinnati will officially participate in a $26 billion national settlement with major opioid distributors, despite a recommendation from the city's lawyers that Cincinnati continue its own lawsuit.

City Solicitor Andrew Garth recommended opting out of the settlement and continuing with the city's individual lawsuit.

"This approach does, to be clear, risk the amount that Cincinnati would receive directly from the proposed inter-state settlement and Ohio agreement, which is $3.8 million over 18 years," Garth said.

Garth says the city's lawsuit could reap much more than that $3.8 million — but agreeing to the state-negotiated settlement, means dropping the city's lawsuit.

Mayor John Cranley supported the Garth's recommendation and called a special session of council Wednesday to hear input. He drafted a resolution supporting the administration's plan, saying the proposed settlement gives more money to states with higher population but lower rates of opioid overdoses and deaths.

"In my opinion, it's far too little money and accountability of these companies for what they did," Cranley said.

Cranley strongly criticized the settlement details, negotiated by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and all 49 other state attorneys general. Cranley recently announced he is running for Ohio governor.

Council voted 4-3 opposing Cranley's resolution, giving majority support to signing on to the settlement instead.

Voting in favor of the resolution, supporting the option to opt out: Council Members Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Greg Landsman, and David Mann.

Voting against the resolution, supporting the option to settle: Council Members Chris Seelbach, Betsy Sundermann, and Interim Members Liz Keating and Steve Goodin.

Keating wanted more time to answer questions about the complicated settlement agreement. Sundermann and Goodin said they were concerned about missing out on any damages, even though the $3.8 million promised in the state-negotiated settlement isn't much. Seelbach didn't comment.

Council Members Wendell Young and Christopher Smitherman were not present.

The decision ultimately rested with the city solicitor, who reports to City Manager Paula Boggs Muething. She said in a memo Tuesday she supported the solicitor's recommendation to continue with the lawsuit, but sent this statement to council members shortly after Wednesday's vote:

"After consultation with the City Solicitor, we consider today’s Council vote against the opioid resolution to be a clear communication that, in Council's estimation, the advantages of entering into the proposed Ohio-only settlement outweigh the disadvantages. Having solicited Council's input, we will act accordingly. The Administration will proceed to settlement in good faith and indicate our willingness to do so to the Ohio Attorney General, as requested."

Ohio's attorney general gave the city a deadline of Friday to decide.

The agreement would give Ohio up to $808 million depending on a variety of factors, like how many local governments drop their lawsuits to sign on. Even if Ohio moves ahead with the settlement, which now includes all but two local governments that sued the opioid distributors, those companies could still choose to walk away from the agreement.