U.S. states are on the verge of a $ 26 billion settlement with three drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to resolve claims they helped fuel the deadly opioid crisis in the United States.
The nationwide settlement with J&J and distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen would end years of litigation against the companies, which have been the subject of lawsuits in states and cities nationwide.
More than $ 23 billion of the funds would be spent to reduce the harms of opioid addiction, according to Joe Rice, co-founder of plaintiffs firm Motley Rice and one of the attorneys representing the states. Opioid overdoses have claimed the lives of more than 500,000 Americans over the past two decades.
Rice said several states have yet to decide whether they want to join the deal, but there is “no magic number” that will determine whether the settlement goes forward. He said the final details of the deal were “still in motion”.
In addition to allocating funds to states, the national agreement also involves the creation of a database of drug shipments between distributors to share information and see where and how much their competitors are shipping.
Paul Geller, a partner at the law firm of the plaintiffs Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, said the database was a “game changer in the way controlled substances are distributed.”
“If perceived misconduct occurs, it will be much easier to identify the problem and resolve it as quickly as possible,” Rice said.
Johnson & Johnson said it would contribute up to $ 5 billion to the settlement, which “would resolve opioid lawsuits filed and future claims from states, cities, counties and tribal governments.” The company said the settlement “is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing.”
Earlier on Tuesday, New York announced that it had separately secured a $ 1.1 billion settlement with McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen over opioids, which it sued in 2019 with J&J and Purdue Pharma.
Letitia James, Attorney General of New York, said: “While no amount of money will ever make up for the millions of addictions, the hundreds of thousands of deaths or the countless communities decimated by opioids, this money will be vital in preventing all future devastation. “
In a joint statement, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen said they “strongly contested the allegations at issue in this lawsuit” but said the agreement “would allow companies to focus their attention and resources on safe delivery and drugs and therapies while providing meaningful assistance to affected communities.
The companies added that if a general settlement was reached with other states, the New York Accord would be part of it.
Last month, New York State agreed to a $ 230 million settlement with J&J, as his claim against Purdue progresses American Bankruptcy Court. His case against Endo, Teva and Allergan is currently on trial in state court.
Settlement payments in New York will begin this summer and will continue for the next 17 years. This is the largest settlement James has secured during his tenure as New York attorney general, which began in 2019.
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler in London