By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - A federal judge pushing for a quick settlement of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors by U.S. cities and counties is seeking to meet with states that are separately suing and probing the companies, Ohio's attorney general said on Thursday.
Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine said he held meetings on Wednesday with Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd to discuss settling a lawsuit he filed accusing them of deceptively marketing opioids.
That lawsuit like others by state attorneys general is in a state court outside the purview of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who is overseeing at least 183 federal lawsuits by cities, counties and others over the opioid epidemic.
But in a move that could help the companies reach global settlements, DeWine said Polster on Wednesday invited him to appear at a Jan. 31 meeting as a representative of the 13 states who have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.
"I think the judge is right that we can settle this matter," DeWine said in an interview.
DeWine, a Republican who is running for governor in Ohio, said he understood that Polster is also reaching out to attorneys general who have not sued and are instead are conducting a multistate investigation of the companies.
An assistant to the judge declined to comment. Johnson & Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Teva declined to comment.
Opioids were involved in over 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In October, U.S. President Donald Trump declared the problem a national public health emergency.
The outreach to DeWine by Polster followed a hearing on Tuesday where the judge told lawyers for the plaintiffs and the companies that his goal was to "do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018."
"I don't think anyone in the country is interested in a whole lot of finger-pointing at this point, and I'm not either," he said.
Defendants in the many opioid cases include Purdue Pharma LP, Endo International PLC, Allergan PLC, AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp.
The lawsuits accuse drugmakers of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing and wholesale distributors of failing to monitor and report suspicious drug orders.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown)