As reported by The New York Times, if enough states sign on to a deal with the country’s three major drug distributors — Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson — as well as pharmaceutical behemoth Johnson & Johnson, the companies could be released from all legal liability in the country’s opioid crisis, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
In exchange for accepting the settlement that took two years to reach, states and cities would be required to drop thousands of lawsuits against the companies and promise not to bring any further legal action against them, according to the New York Times. Addiction treatment, prevention services, and other significant costs associated with the epidemic would be paid for by the companies with the money received from them by the communities.
“We acknowledge that the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue, and we express our heartfelt sympathies to everyone who has been affected. With this settlement, states and local governments will receive direct support in their efforts to make significant progress toward ending the opioid crisis in the United States “According to the New York Times, Michael Ullmann, executive vice president and general counsel of Johnson & Johnson, said
The Times reported that the three drug distributors issued a joint statement saying “While they vigorously dispute the allegations raised in these lawsuits, they believe the proposed settlement agreement and the settlement process it establishes are important steps toward reaching a broad resolution of governmental opioid claims and delivering meaningful relief to communities across the United States.”
The states will now have 30 days to review the agreement, which will include the amount of money each will receive over a 17-year period. While many states allow their attorneys general to give their approval for such transactions, others require that legislators be consulted. According to the New York Times, an unspecified number of states must agree to the agreement in order for it to be implemented. If that criterion is not met, the pharmaceutical companies may decide to withdraw their participation.
Only these four companies would be subject to the terms of the agreement. According to the New York Times, thousands of other lawsuits against other defendants, including drug manufacturers and drugstore chains, have gone unresolved as well.
It was alleged in the lawsuits that for more than two decades, the three drug distributors did nothing while pharmacies across the country ordered millions of pills for their respective communities. Johnson & Johnson was accused of developing its own fentanyl patches for pain patients and then misleading doctors and patients about the addictive properties of opioid painkillers.
Between 1999 and 2019, there were 500,000 overdoses involving prescription and illicit opioids in the United States, according to federal statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, overdose deaths from opioids reached a record high in 2020.