Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and three major distributors finalized nationwide settlements over their role in the opioid addiction crisis Friday, an announcement that clears the way for $26bn to flow to nearly every state and local government in the US.
Taken together, the settlements are the largest to date among the many opioid-related cases that have been playing out across the country. They’re expected to provide a significant boost to efforts aimed at reversing the crisis in places that have been devastated by it, including many parts of rural America.
The latest settlement marks a major step toward resolving the vast constellation of lawsuits in the US over liability for an epidemic that has been linked to the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans over the past two decades.
Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson announced the settlement plan last year, but the deal was contingent on getting participation from a critical mass of state and local governments.
Friday was the deadline for the companies to announce whether they felt enough governments had committed to participate in the settlement and relinquish the right to sue. The four companies notified lawyers for the governments in the case that their thresholds were met, meaning money could start flowing to communities by April.
“We’re never going to have enough money to immediately cure this problem,” said Joe Rice, one of the lead lawyers who represented local governments in the litigation that led to the settlement.
“What we’re trying to do is give a lot of small communities a chance to try to change some of their problems.”
While none of the settlement money will go directly to victims of opioid addiction or their survivors, the vast majority of it is required to be used to deal with the epidemic. The need for the funding runs deep.
Kathleen Noonan, chief executive of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, said a portion of the settlement money should be used to…