Less than two weeks after members of the Sackler family paid $4.5 billion to settle claims brought against Purdue Pharma for the opioid epidemic, four other drug distributors reached a deal Wednesday with the attorneys general of 14 states to release the firms from all claims for $26 billion. It’s the largest corporate settlement since Big Tobacco.
Once the settlement is finalized, billions of dollars will be distributed to opioid treatment and addiction-prevention programs around the country.
In exchange, 14 state attorneys general will drop their cases against Johnson & Johnson and the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson. In exchange, these four firms will not face any future legal actions from thousands of local governments and the states involved.
The agreement — which comes a week after new CDC data showed that a record 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020 — still needs the formal approval of the states and municipalities that made the deal. It requires that Johnson & Johnson pays $5 billion over nine years and the other three firms pays $21 billion over 18 years.
As the New York Times notes, the distributors have been accused of “turning a blind eye for two decades while pharmacies across the country ordered millions of pills for their communities,” including towns where more bottles were being prescribed than there were residents living there. Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, has been accused of overstating the benefits of prescription opioid use and trivializing the risk of addiction. In the settlement, the firm’s general counsel said they had “deep sympathy for everyone affected.” The three distributors issued a statement saying that while they hope the settlement delivers “meaningful relief,” they “strongly dispute the allegations made in these lawsuits.”
This post has been updated to reflect that members of the Sackler family paid $4.5 billion to settle claims against Purdue Pharma.