Johnson & Johnson opioid settlement to support communities
Johnson & Johnson, along with 3 major pharmaceutical distributors, agreed to pay nearly $26 billion on Friday to settle thousands of opioid-related lawsuits. These lawsuits alleged that their business practices helped fuel and perpetuate the deadly opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of over 500,000 Americans since 1999. Of the $26 billion in payouts, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $5 billion, and AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson will pay $6.1 billion, $6 billion, and $7.4 billion, respectively -Dollar.
Forty-six states and nearly 90% of eligible local governments signed the deal, which their joint statement said was sufficient to reach a “comprehensive agreement to resolve the vast majority of opioid lawsuits,” the drug wholesalers agreed. By signing the agreement, these municipalities and states have agreed to drop all current opioid claims against the companies and take no future action against them. During the settlement, neither company admitted wrongdoing in the manufacture and distribution of large quantities of prescription drugs and continues to deny having contributed to the opioid crisis with their aggressive drug marketing over the years.
What the settlement will fund
Of the $26 billion, 85% of payments go to addiction prevention, treatment and health services. These payments will bring nearly $20 billion to thousands of communities across the United States over the next 18 years. Examples of what communities can use this money for include establishing public education programs, increasing the number of drug counselors and social workers in community courts, and paying for addiction treatment drugs used in correctional facilities.
Because of the programs and services that we are able to fund from these settlement proceeds, people will be alive over the next year.
There are currently no separate funds from the Settlement dedicated to compensating each victim of the opioid crisis. The hope is that these payments will help rebuild communities devastated by the opioid crisis and prevent them from being swamped with high-risk drugs by newly funded surveillance systems in the future. The money will be spent reaching communities in early April and will continue to flow for the next two decades.
Opioids in America
This agreement comes at a troubling point in the opioid crisis, as many who have developed an opioid use disorder have switched to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 100,000 people die each year from drug overdoses. The opioid epidemic is by no means a new phenomenon, and over the past two years annual overdose deaths have increased by 50%. The introduction of fentanyl into the illicit drug market, individuals turning to drugs during the pandemic, and a number of treatment facilities closing their doors all contributed to this increase in overdose deaths.
Many have blamed drug companies for creating and perpetuating America’s opioid crisis. In an effort to expand the use of prescription pain medications beyond malignant pain, many pharmaceutical companies marketed opioids as less or non-addictive compared to morphine and without dangerous side effects. Doctors, convinced by these claims, began prescribing these drugs and saw no effect on the patients taking them. This increase in opioid prescription has directly raised opioid distribution to elevated levels today.
Johnson & Johnson’s history with opioids
The CDC describes 3 waves of the opioid epidemic, with the first wave beginning in the 1990s when opioid prescription rates increased exponentially. In 1994, the Johnson & Johnson company created a variety of poppy that would be used to manufacture and distribute large quantities of opioids. The company manufactured this specific strain in anticipation of future demand for oxycodone, leading to its future partnership with Purdue Pharma as their supplier. In addition, for years Johnson & Johnson supplied 60% of all opioid drug substances manufactured and sold in the United States.
For over a decade, Johnson & Johnson ran marketing campaigns affirming that all opioids are safe for everyday pain. Because the company was the largest supplier of opioid drugs, the revival of the opioid market was positive for the business. In 2001, the company continued to market the drugs as having a low risk of abuse, even after warnings from its medical advisory team and the FDA.
Johnson & Johnson has since stopped selling opioids and has agreed not to resume sales. In contrast, the other 3 distributors have agreed to provide data to a clearinghouse or intermediary to track when prescription drugs enter the black market.
Which brought complaints to the surface
While the 4 companies allege no wrongdoing in their settlement, surrounding lawsuits have exposed some troubling practices and actions. One case revealed that drug wholesalers continued to distribute large quantities of prescription pills to small, rural communities despite strong evidence that the drugs, like OxyContin, were being distributed and sold on the black market. The amount of prescription drugs that flooded these communities was often out of proportion to the local population.
In a separate lawsuit, an email shared between AmerisourceBergen executives revealed the use of terms such as “pillbillies” and “hillbilly heroin” to describe people addicted to opioids and to refer to OxyContin . These lawsuits and subsequent lawsuits underscore the questionable actions of these companies at the height of the crisis.
While the $26 billion settlement will serve as a much-needed financial boost for communities to fund addiction prevention and treatment services, it will take years to mitigate the harm caused by opioids across the country. Opioid-related lawsuits, which have focused on pharmacy chains that sell vast quantities of prescription pills directly to consumers, continue in other state and federal courts.