The Johnson & Johnson laboratory and three US drug distributors accused of fueling the opioid epidemic are willing to pay up to $ 26 billion to end thousands of lawsuits, the New York state attorney general announced Wednesday.
J&J agreed to pay $ 5 billion over nine years, and the three distributors $ 21 billion over 18 years, to end some 4,000 lawsuits launched by various states and communities across the country, prosecutor Letitia James said in a statement.
“Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and Amerisource Bergen not only helped light the match, but they continued to fuel the fire of opiate addiction for more than two decades. Today, we hold them accountable, ”said James.
– “Historical” but partial –
The agreement, which was classified as “historic” by the prosecutor, has already been approved by New York and six other states in the country (North Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Tennessee). But it still has to get the go-ahead from several other states within 30 days, and from numerous communities within 150 days.
New York will receive 1,250 million under previously announced agreements with the four companies, which will be used for the prevention and treatment of opiate addiction.
If confirmed, this will be the biggest deal in the long legal battle between state and local governments and the opioid manufacturing and distribution network, which for years has closed its eyes to the abusive use of powerful pain medications.
But it does not cover all manufacturers or distributors: other laboratories that are targets of lawsuits such as Purdue – the manufacturer of the drug OxyContin, which many consider one of the first responsible for the epidemic -, Teva, Allergan or Endo did not join the agreement.
Nor does it include large US pharmacy chains, the subject of lawsuits for their role in distribution.
– Changes in the industry –
The aggressive promotion of highly addictive pain medications since the mid-1990s is considered by many to be the trigger for the opioid crisis, which has led to more than 500,000 overdose deaths in the past 20 years in the United States.
As they became addicted to these prescription opiates, many patients later began using powerful illicit derivatives such as heroin or fentanyl, the source of many overdoses.
The agreement also provides for changes in the pharmaceutical industry to end the epidemic and prevent a repeat.
“Johnson & Johnson will stop selling opiates nationally, and McKesson, Cardinal Health, and Amerisource Bergen have finally agreed to coordinate and share their information with an independent monitor to ensure this fire does not spread further,” said James.
“Although there is no money that can compensate for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost or the millions of people who have become addicted to opiates, we can take all possible actions to avoid further devastation in the future,” concluded the prosecutor.
The epidemic worsened during the coronavirus pandemic: More than 93,000 people died of overdoses linked largely to opiates in 2020, according to statistics released last Wednesday.