States, drug companies reach tentative $26 billion deal over opioids

A number of major drug companies have reached a tentative settlement with a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general to pay $26 billion over 18 years to settle 4,000 claims from state and local governments.

The deal would see three major opioid distributors– Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen—pay $21 billion over 18 years.

Johnson&Johnson would pay $5 billion over nine years, with most of that coming in the first three years, and would also exit the opioid business under the agreement.

The money would go to prevention and treatment of opioid abuse, and not to individual families or individuals struggling with opioids, attorneys involved in the deal said.

“Person-made crisis”

Lead negotiator, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D), said at a press conference announcing the tentative deal that he expects at least 40 states to agree to the settlement.

Local entities have 150 days to sign on and agree with the terms in order to get some of the settlement money.

“This was a person-made crisis,” Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro said about the problem of opioids. “These deaths did not have to happen. This epidemic was manufactured by an army of pharmaceutical executives and drug distributors.”

The parties to the suit against the drug companies had argued that the huge companies ignored red flags that signaled billions of their pills were being diverted to the black market, where they made their way into communities and fueled the opioid crisis.

A growing crisis

Opioid overdoses involving prescription pills totaled at least 14,139 in 2019, the latest year data was available.

In 2020, there were over 93,000 overdose deaths, the highest number ever recorded and a 29% jump from 2019’s numbers. If prescription opioids followed 2020’s trajectory, over 18,000 people may have died of an opioid overdose during that time period.

Not all state leaders think drug companies are doing enough with the settlement.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) said the settlement “stretches woefully insufficient funds into small payments over nearly 20 years, to be shared among more than 300 Washington jurisdictions” and that his state will continue to fight in court for more than is being offered.

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