US opioid lawsuits on verge of settlements with 4 companies

Years of efforts by state and local governments in the US

Years of efforts by state and local governments in the U.S. to force the pharmaceutical industry to pay to resolve a statewide opioid addiction and overdose crisis took a huge step forward on Tuesday when lawyers for local governments announced they were on the verge of reaching an agreement $ 26 billion stood with the country’s three largest drug distributors and drug maker Johnson & Johnson.

Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson would not make opioids for at least a decade. And AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson are sharing prescribing information as part of a new system designed to stop the pill avalanches that hit some regions about a decade ago.

Local government lawyers said full details could be shared within days. That wouldn’t be the end of the deal, however; each state would have 30 days to decide whether to join. And local governments then have five months to decide. If the governments do not choose to do so, the settlement size would decrease.

“This is a nationwide crisis and it might have been and should have been addressed by other branches of government,” said Paul Geller, a senior lawyer representing local governments in the US, on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But this is really an example of using litigation to solve a national problem.”

If approved, the settlement will likely be the largest of many opioid litigation settlements. While it means billions for the lawyers who handled the cases, more than $ 23 billion is expected to be allocated to containment and containment efforts to treat addicts along with other programs to deal with the crisis. The money would come in 18 annual payments, with the highest amounts over the next several years.

The deal reflects one that the companies have been pushing, sometimes in public, for the past two years.

Johnson & Johnson affirmed in a statement that it is ready to contribute up to $ 5 billion to national unification.

“There is continued progress in finalizing this agreement, and we continue to seek reassurance and critical support to families and communities in need,” the company said. “The settlement is not an admission of liability or misconduct and the company will continue to defend itself against any legal disputes that are not resolved by the final agreement.”

However, Cardinal Health declined to comment early Tuesday and the other distributors did not respond to requests for comment.

An Associated Press review finds that since 2007 there has been at least $ 40 billion in settlement or proposed settlements, penalties and fines between governments and the toll of opioids would be waived. Purdue seeks bankruptcy court settlement that could be worth $ 10 billion over time; a hearing on this plan is scheduled for August.

Other offers are possible. While a growing number of companies in the industry have closed deals, some manufacturers have not – and no pharmacy company has made nationwide settlements.

But the total amount in the settlements is well below estimates of the epidemic’s financial cost. The Society of Actuaries found that the cost of the crisis in the US from 2015 to 2018 was $ 630 billion, with most of the costs borne by the private sector. And the Council of Economic Advisers to the White House put the economic impact of people who suffered a fatal overdose at about $ 500 billion nationwide.

In contrast to the tobacco deals signed in the 1990s, governments have agreed to spend funds raised from opioid-related settlements to help tackle the opioid crisis.

In a joint statement, the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee said the settlement talks with the four companies “may be nearing completion” and that “We look forward to it look forward to bringing much-needed dollars home to our states to help people recover from opioid addiction and to transform the opioid manufacturing and distribution industry so that it never happens again. “

But they still have choices to make on exactly how to do it.

“Is it a nice change of pace?” Asked Ryan Hampton, who is recovering from an opioid addiction and is a Las Vegas-based advocate for policies to address the overdose crisis. “Of course it is. Will it go where it is needed?” The jury is not finished yet. “

Even before the settlement plan was unveiled on Tuesday, a group of public health advocates and experts called for all settlement funds to be spent on addressing the opioid crisis.

“Money can do a lot of good when used well,” said Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who leads the effort. “It is really important to use it well to save lives” because it is at the height of the overdose epidemic. “

Private lawyers on the Plaintiffs Executive Committee, who represent local governments in opioid lawsuits across the country, announced some details of the settlement on Tuesday before it was final. The decision to do so was due in part to the fact that New York State reached an agreement with the three major distributors on Tuesday during a lawsuit in a state court on Long Island.

New York’s $ 1 billion deal represents the portion of the national deal it will receive from distributors when the national deal is closed. New York also closed a similar $ 230 million deal with Johnson & Johnson last month.

“Today we blame them for delivering more than $ 1 billion more to opioid-ravaged New York communities for treatment, recovery and prevention efforts,” New York attorney general Letitia James said in a statement Tuesday.

The trial is expected to continue, but the settlement leaves only three drug manufacturers as defendants.

Other manufacturers, regional distributors, and pharmacies will remain in the New York and other cases for the time being. The closing arguments in a West Virginia lawsuit against the distributors are expected to continue as planned next week. Local attorney general Patrick Morrisey said the state is unlikely to agree to the terms.

“I will continue to fight to protect West Virginia and not allow larger states to dictate how we hold defendants accountable for their actions,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

State and local governments say distributors did not have adequate controls to flag or stop deliveries to pharmacies that were receiving oversized amounts of strong and addictive prescription pain relievers. Companies have claimed they are fulfilling doctor-placed orders for legal drugs – so they shouldn’t be to blame for the country’s addiction and overdose crisis.

An analysis of federal distribution data by the Associated Press found that enough prescription opioids were shipped in 2012 for every person in the US to have a 20-day supply.

And opioids – including both prescription and illicit drugs like heroin and illegally produced fentanyl – have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the United States since 2000. The number of cases hit a record high in 2020.


Associated Press Writer Cuneyt Dil of Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.

Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press

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