On the eve of a widely anticipated trial, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) has agreed to pay $230 million to the state of New York to settle a lawsuit alleging that the company helped fuel the devastating opioid crisis.
The deal comes as negotiations intensify with the health care giant and three of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical wholesalers to complete a sweeping $26 billion settlement of thousands of other lawsuits. The settlement includes an additional $33 million in attorney fees and costs, as well as a commitment from J&J to halt opioid sales, a step the company said it has already taken (you can read the settlement here).
The payments would be made over nine years, but more than half could come as soon as February if all of the local governments that sued agree to join the deal, according to New York State Attorney General Letitia James. The agreement also requires J&J to pay $30 million more in payments if New York enacts a law creating an opioid settlement fund. The state legislature recently passed a bill unanimously.
The agreement comes after states, cities, and counties around the U.S. filed more than 3,000 lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors over the opioid crisis, which has claimed nearly 500,000 people over the past two decades.
Numerous drug makers have been accused of downplaying the addictive risks of their opioid painkillers while simultaneously encouraging physicians to overprescribe the medicines. As a result, some patients became addicted and abused still other illegal forms of opioids. At the same time, state and local governments alleged that wholesalers failed to sufficiently monitor suspicious shipments.
“The opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc on countless communities across New York state and the rest of the nation, leaving millions still addicted to dangerous and deadly opioids,” James said in a statement. “Johnson & Johnson helped fuel this fire, but today they’re committing to leaving the opioid business — not only in New York, but across the entire country.
“While no amount of money will ever compensate for the thousands who lost their lives or became addicted to opioids across our state or provide solace to the countless families torn apart by this crisis, these funds will be used to prevent any future devastation.” She noted that the settlement will also resolve lawsuits filed by Nassau and Suffolk counties, which are located on Long Island, N.Y.
“Our trial against the remaining defendants will commence this coming week, where we will lay bare the callous and deadly pattern of misconduct these companies perpetrated as they dealt dangerous and addictive opioids across our state. As always, our goal remains getting funds to those devastated by opioids as quickly as possible,” James said.
In a brief statement, J&J maintained the settlement is “not an admission of liability or wrongdoing” and that its “marketing and promotion of important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible.” The company added that “there continues to be progress toward finalizing” the nationwide litigation, but will continue to fight any lawsuit that the final agreement does not resolve.
James added that the trial scheduled for this coming Monday will begin as scheduled, which has added a sense of urgency to the negotiations over nationwide litigation. The wholesalers that will go on trial are AmerisourceBergen (ABC), Cardinal Health (CAH) and McKesson (MCK), as well as the Walgreen (WBA) pharmacy chain. Meanwhile, trials are still under way in California and West Virginia.