The multi-year effort by state and local governments in the United States to force the pharmaceutical industry to help pay for a national crisis of opioid addiction and overdose took a big step forward on Tuesday when lawyers for the governments Locals announced they were on the verge of a $ 26 billion settlement with the nation’s three largest drug distribution companies and drug maker Johnson & Johnson.
Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson would produce no opioids for at least a decade. And AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson are sharing prescribing information as part of a new system to stop avalanches of pills that arrived in some areas about a decade ago.
Lawyers for local governments said all details could be shared within days. That wouldn’t be the end of the matter though; each state would have 30 days to decide whether or not to join. And local governments will have five months after that to decide. If governments do not participate, the total number of regulations would decrease.
“This is a national crisis and it could and should have been addressed perhaps by other branches of government,” said Paul Geller, one of the leading lawyers representing local governments in the United States, on Tuesday. United, during a conference call with journalists. “But this is really an example of the use of litigation to settle a national problem.”
If approved, the settlement will likely be the most significant of many settlements in opioid litigation. While this will mean billions for the lawyers who have worked on the cases, it is expected to add over $ 23 billion to reduction and mitigation efforts to help secure treatment for people with drug addiction as well as other programs for deal with the crisis. The money would come in 18 annual installments, with the largest amounts over the next several years.
The deal echoes the one that companies have been advocating, sometimes in public, for two years.
Johnson & Johnson reiterated in a statement that they are prepared to contribute up to $ 5 billion to the national settlement.
“There continues to be progress towards finalizing this agreement and we remain committed to providing certainty to parties involved and essential assistance to families and communities in need,” the company said. “The settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, and the Company will continue to defend itself against any disputes that the final agreement does not resolve.”
But Cardinal Health declined to comment early Tuesday, and other distribution companies did not respond to requests for comment.
Associated Press tally reveals there have been at least $ 40 billion in settlements, penalties and fines made or proposed between governments and the opioid record since 2007, not counting one between the federal government and OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma in which most of the $ 8.3 billion would be raised. Purdue tries to strike deal in bankruptcy court it 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 made deals, some manufacturers have not – and no pharmaceutical company has made deals nationwide.
But the total amount in the settlements is well below estimates of the financial costs of the outbreak. The Society of Actuaries found the cost of the crisis in the United States to be $ 630 billion from 2015 to 2018, most of the costs being borne by the private sector. And the White House Council of Economic Advisers, when examining the economic impact of people who fatally overdosed, put the cost of a year at around $ 500 billion nationwide..
Unlike tobacco colonies Reached in the 1990s, governments agreed to spend the money they brought back from opioid regulations to deal with 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 were “potentially close to completion,” and that “we look forward to bringing much-needed dollars back to our states to help people recover from opioid addiction and fundamentally change the opioid manufacturing and distribution industries so that it doesn’t happen again.
But they still have choices ahead of them on how they do it.
“Is this a good piece of change? Asked Ryan Hampton, who is recovering from an opioid addiction and campaigning in Las Vegas for policy to deal with the overdose crisis. “Of course it is. Will he get where he needs to go? The jury is still out on that.
Even before the settlement plan was unveiled on Tuesday, a group of public health advocates and experts began calling for all settlement money to be spent to address the opioid crisis.
“It’s money that can do a lot of good if used well,” said Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is leading the effort. “It is really important to use it well to save lives because it comes at the height of the overdose epidemic. “
Private attorneys on the plaintiffs’ executive committee representing local governments in opioid lawsuits across the country announced some details of the settlement on Tuesday before it was even completed. The decision to do so is due in part to the fact that New York State reached an agreement on Tuesday with the Big Three distribution companies in a lawsuit in a Long Island state court. .
The New York deal, worth more than $ 1 billion, represents the portion of the national deal it will receive from distributors if the national deal is finalized. New York also struck a similar deal last month with Johnson & Johnson worth $ 230 million..
“Today we hold them accountable for providing more than $ 1 billion more to opioid-ravaged New York communities for treatment, recovery and prevention efforts,” said the New York attorney general. York, Letitia James, in a statement Tuesday.
The lawsuit is expected to continue, but the settlement leaves only three drugmakers as defendants.
Other manufacturers, regional distribution companies and drugstores will remain in New York and in other cases for now. Final arguments in a West Virginia lawsuit against the distributors are expected to proceed as scheduled next week. On-site attorney general Patrick Morrisey said the state is unlikely to agree to the terms.
“I will continue to fight to protect West Virginia and I will not allow the big states to dictate how we hold the accused accountable for their actions,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
State and local governments say distribution companies did not have proper controls to report or stop shipments to pharmacies that received disproportionate shares of potent and addicting prescription pain relievers. The companies have maintained that they are filling legal drug orders placed by doctors – so they should not be blamed for the drug abuse and overdose crisis in the country.
An Associated Press analysis of federal distribution data found that enough prescription opioids were shipped in 2012 for everyone in the United States to have a 20-day supply.
And opioids – including prescription drugs and illegal drugs like illicitly produced heroin and fentanyl – have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the United States since 2000. The number of cases reached an all-time high in 2020.
Associated Press writer Cuneyt Dil in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.