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Opioid Maker and Distributors Settle State Lawsuits for $26 Billion

July 23, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
(Wikimedia Commons)

A coalition of state attorneys general reached a $26 billion settlement with opioid maker Johnson & Johnson and three of its distributors this week.

They blame the companies for a half-million deaths in the United States from overdoses and addictions to powerful painkillers.

“Our country’s opioid epidemic is a nationwide public health crisis that requires a nationwide solution,” the attorneys general, known as the Plaintiffs Executive Committee, said in a statement.

An estimated 69,000 people worldwide die of opioid overdoses each year and 15 million people have opioid addictions, according to a 2019 report in the American Journal of Therapeutics.

The settlement money would be allocated among programs to prevent and treat opioid addictions.

In addition, Johnson & Johnson agreed to halt manufacturing of the drug. The company already stopped selling prescription opioids last year.

The settlement with the attorneys general represented only one of about 4,000 lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson and its distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. The distributors were accused of ignoring suspiciously large orders of opioids they shipped around the country while trying to maximize their profits.

The drug distributors agreed to spread their $21 billion payments over 18 years. Johnson & Johnson said it would contribute $5 billion over nine years.

The $26 billion represents the amount of the settlement only if other government entities suing the companies agree to drop their lawsuits, thereby allowing them to share the money. 

Other states have 30 days to decide whether to accept the deal. Local governments have 150 days.

Johnson & Johnson continues to deny wrongdoing, saying in a statement the way it marketed opioids was “appropriate and responsible.” The medication has helped numerous patients cope with sometimes debilitating pain.

However, the feeling of euphoria it creates also is linked to addiction. The most addictions and deaths were blamed on the opioid that used the brand name fentanyl.

Johnson & Johnson’s statement said, “This settlement will directly support state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis in the United States.”

Attorneys general that helped to negotiate the settlement represented California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

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