The deal is the second largest cash settlement in United States history, after the $246 billion tobacco deal in 1998.
A group of US attorneys general has unveiled a landmark $26 billion settlement with major US drug companies accused of fueling a deadly nationwide opioid epidemic, but some states have been cool about the deal.
Under the settlement proposal released Wednesday, the three largest U.S. drug distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — are expected to pay $21 billion together, while drug maker Johnson & Johnson would pay $5 billion.
“Frankly, there isn’t enough money in the world to address the pain and suffering,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said, adding, however, that the money “helps where help is needed.”
The deal was the second-largest cash settlement ever, with just a $246 billion tobacco deal in 1998, and the largest revealed in a multi-year legal effort to hold the industry responsible for the opioid crisis, which killed more than 500,000. caused in the US. over the past 20 years.
“The numerous companies that produced and distributed opioids across the country did so without regard for the life or even the national crisis they helped fuel,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the attorneys. General of 15 states involved in the deal. .
“Today, we hold these companies accountable and inject tens of billions of dollars into communities across the country,” James said in a statement.
Distributors’ settlement money will be paid out over 18 years. J&J will pay over nine years, with up to $3.7 billion being paid over the first three years. The money is expected to be used for addiction treatment, family support, education and other social programs.
“This settlement will directly support national and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis,” said Michael Ullmann, Johnson & Johnson general counsel.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo said the settlement money could be distributed among states and localities as early as the end of the year.
Public health officials have said that, if used correctly, the funds “could be a good first step to contain the opioid epidemic in the United States,” Elizondo reported. “But again, it has to be used correctly.”
The distributors were accused of lax controls that allowed massive amounts of addictive painkillers to be diverted into illegal channels, destroying communities, while J&J was accused of downplaying the risk of addiction in its opioid marketing.
The companies deny the allegations.
The settlement also calls for an independent clearinghouse to be established to provide distributors and state regulators with aggregated drug shipment data, which the negotiators hope will help prevent abuse.
More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed in the US related to the health crisis, mostly by state and local governments. Negotiators have struggled to find a structure that would get enough support from the local government to assure the defendants that a deal ends almost all lawsuits.
As a result, the final settlement amount will depend on the extent to which states sign up for the deal and confirm that their cities and counties are on board.
“The forecast is north of 40 and well north of 40 will sign,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.
The opioid crisis has hit some parts of the US much harder than others, leading to divisions among governments when it comes to considering the settlement. States have 30 days to evaluate the agreement.
“States that don’t sign up are irresponsible,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “We don’t want perfect to be the enemy of good.”
Meanwhile, the opioid crisis has shown no sign of ceasing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that preliminary data showed 2020 was a record year for total overdose deaths with 93,331 fatalities, up 29 percent from a year earlier.