Historic agreement reached with 4 companies for US opioid lawsuits

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Attorney Generals from 14 states have reached a historic $26 billion agreement with the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson to help combat the opioid crisis and help those struggling with opioid addiction. The negotiations were lead by Attorneys General Josh Stein of North Carolina and Herbert Slatery of Tennessee.

In 2020, the US opioid overdose deaths rose to a record 93,000, a nearly 30% increase over the previous year. In Tennessee, opioid overdoses kill an average of more than five people a day.

The agreement comes as a result of investigations by state attorneys general into whether the three distributors fulfilled their legal duty to refuse to ship opioids to pharmacies that submitted suspicious drug orders and whether Johnson & Johnson misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of opioids drugs.

“We’ve reached an agreement in the most complicated civil case in American history,” said Slatery. “Yes, it took several years. It required a lot of give and take from everyone involved but now we have one. The negotiating states were both red and blue; this was a bipartisan effort from start to finish. We acted on behalf and at the direction of, a host of other states.”

This agreement will provide billions in funding for opioid abuse treatment and prevention paid for by both the three distributors and Johnson & Johnson. The three distributors will pay up to $21 billion over 18 years, while Johnson & Johnson will pay up to $5 billion over nine years. Each state’s share of funding will be determined by using a formula that takes into account the impact of the crisis on the state (the number of overdose deaths, the number of residents with substance use disorder, and the volume of opioids prescribed) and the state’s population.

In addition to funding, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen will fund an independent clearinghouse to find red flags so they can take action when there is a pill mill or a community is drowning in opioids and help to eliminate blind spots in the current systems used. Distributors also will be required to prohibit the shipping of suspicion orders, report them to regulators and termite offending pharmacies. This will also all be subject to a review of an independent monitor.

For Johnson & Johnson, they will be required to stop selling opioids for 10 years, cannot fund or provide grants to third parties for promoting opioids, and cannot lobby on activities related to opioids. They will also be mandated to share clinical trial data under the Yale University Open Data Access Project.

“Our objective was to solve a national problem that has touched virtually everyone in one way or another. We want all states and local governments to sign on,” said Slatery. “That way we can hold these companies accountable (as they should be), get immediate funds to programs that will reduce the crisis and save lives, and do so now, as opposed to years of litigation and the costs that go with it.”

The attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas also joined in the negotiations. States have 30 days to join the deal and local governments have up to 150 days to join the deal. According to Slatery, Tennessee will be signing the agreement and reaching out to encourage participation.

In 2019, a previous version of this agreement was announced and including opioid manufacturer Teva. However, negotiations with Teva are ongoing and they are no longer part of this agreement.

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