Officials discuss effects of opioid epidemic in Cuyahoga County

CUYAHOGA COUNTY- The nationwide opioid crisis has cost tens of thousands of lives in recent years.  But the epidemic could soon be costly for companies that manufacture and distribute the drugs.

"A good meeting, it was good progress," describes Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

He is referring to settlement talks Wednesday that happened inside U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

Attorneys General from six states and officials from others, including Ohio, met with attorneys for pharmaceutical companies and distributors.

The drug companies face hundreds of lawsuits, claiming addictive painkillers are responsible for the rising number of opioid related deaths nationwide, and lead many people to more powerful drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

Budish says local governments are left paying the bill.

"The presentations were not directed towards coming up with dollar figures for settlement, they were addressing if there's things that we can do right now to stem the epidemic of additional addictions that just keep coming and coming and coming," Budish told reporters outside of the court house.

The county executive says the crisis affects 80-thousand people in Cuyahoga County alone.

"That 80,000 figure is referring to the number of people that are currently addicted, but not yet dead," he said.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says he is encouraged by the talks and says the judge is "dead serious" about both sides reaching a resolution.

"You also have to look at how we can treat the people and take care of the people who are currently going through various problems, whether it's foster kids or help we need in the jail," he added.

Budish says coming up with an appropriate settlement amount must include projected costs in the future too.

"We have people who are addicted that right now are not costing taxpayers money, but many in the future and so if we're talking about a settlement, we don't want to settle something today and then have huge costs for the next five or ten years that we haven't addressed," said Budish.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster closed the courtroom to the public and the media.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office reports preliminary numbers estimate more than 800 people in the county died from opioid related overdoses in 2017.