Miami Herald

Opioid suits near settlement­s with J&J, 3 other companies


The yearslong effort by state and local government­s in the U.S. to force the pharmaceut­ical industry to help pay to fix a nationwide opioid addiction and overdose crisis took a major step forward Tuesday when lawyers for local government­s announced they were on the verge of a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s three biggest drug distributi­on companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson would not produce any opioids for at least a decade. And Amerisourc­eBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson share prescribin­g informatio­n under a new system intended to stop the avalanches of pills that arrived in some regions about a decade ago.

Lawyers for local government­s said that full details could be shared within days. That would not be the end of the deal though; each state would have 30 days to decide whether to join. And local government­s will have five months after that to decide. If government­s don’t opt in, the settlement total would go down.

“This is a nationwide crisis and it could have been and should have been addressed perhaps by other branches of government,” Paul Geller, one of the lead lawyers representi­ng local government­s across the U.S., said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But this really is an example of the use of litigation for fixing a national problem.”

If approved, the settlement will likely be the biggest of many settlement­s to opioid litigation. While it means billions for lawyers who worked the cases, it is expected to bring more than $23 billion to abatement and mitigation efforts to help get treatment for people who are addicted along with other programs to address the crisis. The money would come in 18 annual payments, with the biggest amounts in the next several years.


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

Johnson & Johnson reiterated in a statement that it’s prepared to contribute up to $5 billion to the national settlement.

“There continues to be progress toward finalizing this agreement and we remain committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for 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 against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve.”

But Cardinal Health declined to comment early Tuesday, and the other distributi­on companies did not respond to requests for comment.

An Associated Press tally finds there have been at least $40 billion in completed or proposed settlement­s, penalties and fines between government­s and the toll of opioids since 2007, not including one between the federal government and OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma in which most of the $8.3 billion would be waived. Purdue is trying to reach a deal through bankruptcy court that could be worth $10 billion over time; a hearing on that plan is scheduled for August.

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

But the total amount in the settlement­s is far below estimates of the financial costs of the epidemic. The Society of Actuaries found that the cost of the crisis in the U.S. was $630 billion from 2015 through 2018, with most of the costs borne by the private sector. And the White House Council of Economic Advisers, when considerin­g the economic impact of people who fatally overdosed, put the one-year cost at about $500 billion nationally.

Unlike with the tobacco settlement­s reached in the 1990s, government­s have agreed to spend money they bring in from opioidrela­ted settlement­s to deal with the opioid crisis.


In a joint statement, the attorneys general for Florida as well as Connecticu­t, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachuse­tts, New York,

North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvan­ia and Tennessee said the settlement talks with the four companies are “potentiall­y nearing their completion,” and that, “we look forward to bringing much-needed dollars home to our states to help people recover from opioid addiction and to fundamenta­lly change the opioid manufactur­ing and distributi­ng industries so this never happens again.”

But they still have choices ahead on exactly how they do it.

“Is it a nice chunk of change?“asked Ryan Hampton, who is in recovery from an opioid addiction and is a Las Vegasbased advocate for policy to address the overdose crisis. “Sure it is. Will it go to where it needs to go? The jury’s still out on that.”

Even before the settlement plan was unveiled Tuesday, a group of public health advocates and experts began calling for any settlement money to be spent to address the opioid crisis.

“It’s money that can do a lot of good if it’s used well,” said Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is spearheadi­ng the effort. “It’s really important to use it well to save lives because it’s coming at the peak of the overdose epidemic.”

Private lawyers on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee representi­ng local government­s in opioid lawsuits across the country announced some details of the settlement on Tuesday even before it was completed.

The decision to do so was partly because the state of New York reached a settlement Tuesday with the three big distributi­on companies amid a trial playing out in a state court on Long Island.

New York’s deal, worth more than $1 billion, represents the share of the national deal it will receive from distributo­rs if the national deal is finalized. New York also reached a similar deal last month with Johnson & Johnson worth $230 million.

“Today, we’re holding them accountabl­e delivering more than $1 billion more into New York communitie­s ravaged by opioids 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.

 ?? MARK LENNIHAN AP file | Aug. 29, 2018 ?? An arrangemen­t of Oxycodone pills. The AP was told that the three biggest U.S. drug distributi­on companies and Johnson & Johnson are on the verge of a $26 billion settlement covering thousands of lawsuits over the toll of opioids.
MARK LENNIHAN AP file | Aug. 29, 2018 An arrangemen­t of Oxycodone pills. The AP was told that the three biggest U.S. drug distributi­on companies and Johnson & Johnson are on the verge of a $26 billion settlement covering thousands of lawsuits over the toll of opioids.

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