© Reuters. A sign is seen on the outside of the courtroom on the first day of a trial of Johnson & Johnson in Norman

By Kathy Gray

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Four drug companies reached a last-minute legal settlement over their role in the opioid addiction epidemic just as a nine-week trial was scheduled to start in Cleveland, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp (N:), Cardinal Health Inc (N:) and McKesson Corp (N:) and Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd () will announce the settlement on Monday, according to the report.

It was unclear if the fifth defendant, pharmacy chain operator Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (O:), had reached a settlement with the two Ohio counties that were the plaintiffs in the trial set to begin Monday morning.

On Friday, talks collapsed aimed at reaching a broader $48 billion settlement covering thousands of lawsuits filed by counties, towns and states from across the country over the opioid crisis.

The story could not be immediately verified and the Wall Street Journal did not report terms of the settlement.

The trial was scheduled to pit two Ohio counties against the five companies that the local governments say helped fuel a nationwide crisis. Some 400,000 U.S. overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017 were linked to opioids, according to government data.

The report said the settlement only covered the two Ohio counties acting as plaintiffs in the so-called bellwether or test trial.

Attorneys were seen hugging and congratulating each other outside the courtroom.

The report comes as lawyers, jurors and reporters were gathering for opening arguments on Monday morning in Cleveland’s federal courthouse.

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2019-10-21