Johnson & Johnson Opioid Settlement to Help Communities
Johnson & Johnson, alongside 3 major pharmaceutical distributors, agreed to pay nearly $26 billion to settle thousands of opioid-related lawsuits on Friday. Those lawsuits claimed their business practices helped fuel and sustain the deadly opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of more than 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 do it. pay $6.1 billion, $6 billion, and $7.4 billion, respectively.
Forty-six states and nearly 90% of eligible local governments signed the agreement, which drug wholesalers said was enough to move forward with a “comprehensive agreement to settle the vast majority of lawsuits against opioids,” according to their joint statement. By signing the agreement, these localities and states agreed to drop any pending opioid lawsuits against the companies and not pursue any future actions against them. During the settlement, none of the companies admitted wrongdoing for the manufacturing and distribution of large quantities of prescription drugs and continue to deny attribution to the opioid crisis with their aggressive drug marketing over the years. years.
What the settlement will fund
Of the $26 billion, 85% of the payments will go to addiction prevention, treatment and healthcare services. These payments will provide thousands of communities across the United States with nearly $20 billion over the next 18 years. Examples of communities using this money include creating public education programs, increasing the number of addiction counselors and social workers in municipal courts, and paying for addiction treatment drugs used in correctional institutions.
There will be people alive next year because of the programs and services we can fund through these settlement products.
Currently, there are no funds separate from the settlement dedicated to compensating individual victims of the opioid crisis. The hope is that these payments will help rebuild communities devastated by the opioid crisis and prevent them from being inundated with high-risk drugs in the future through newly funded monitoring systems. The money is being issued to start reaching communities in early April and will continue to flow for the next 2 decades.
Opioids in America
The settlement comes at a troubling time in the opioid crisis, as many people who have developed 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 lives are lost each year due to drug overdoses. The opioid epidemic is by no means a new phenomenon, and in the past 2 years, the number of annual overdose deaths has soared by 50%. The introduction of fentanyl into the illegal drug market, people turning to the drug during the pandemic, and the closure of a number of treatment facilities have contributed to this spike in overdose deaths.
Many have blamed pharmaceutical companies for creating and sustaining the opioid crisis in the United States. Seeking to expand the use of prescription painkillers beyond malignant pain, many pharmaceutical companies have marketed opioids as less addictive or non-addictive compared to morphine and without dangerous side effects. Doctors, convinced by these claims, started prescribing these drugs and saw no repercussions on the patients who took them. This growth in opioid prescribing has directly driven the distribution of opioids to high 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 as the rate of opioid prescribing grew exponentially. In 1994, the Johnson & Johnson Company created a poppy strain to be used to manufacture and distribute large quantities of opioids. The company manufactured this specific strain in anticipation of future demand for oxycodone, which led to its future partnership with Purdue Pharma as a supplier. Johnson & Johnson has also supplied 60% of all active opioid ingredients manufactured and sold in the United States for years to come.
For more than a decade, Johnson & Johnson ran marketing campaigns that ensured all opioids were safe for everyday pain. As the company was the largest supplier of opioid active ingredients, the boost in the opioid market had a positive impact on the business. In 2001, the company continued to market the drugs as having a low risk of abuse and misuse, even after its medical advisory team and the FDA warned it.
Johnson & Johnson has since stopped selling opioids and agreed not to resume. In contrast, the other 3 distribution companies have agreed to provide data to a clearing house, or intermediary, to track when prescription drugs enter the black market.
What lawsuits have surfaced
Although the 4 companies claim no wrongdoing in their settlement, the surrounding lawsuits have drawn public attention to troubling practices and actions. One case revealed that drug wholesalers continued to distribute large quantities of prescription pills to small rural communities despite strong indications that the drugs, such as OxyContin, were being dispersed and sold on the black market. The amount of prescription drugs flooding these communities was often disproportionate to the local population.
In a separate lawsuit, an email shared between AmerisourceBergen executives revealed the use of language such as “pillbillies” and “hillbilly Heroin” to describe opioid addicts and refer to OxyContin. These lawsuits, and the lawsuits that followed, highlight the questionable actions of these companies at the height of the crisis.
While the $26 billion settlement is a much-needed financial boost for communities to fund addiction prevention and treatment services, the harm caused by opioids across the country will take years to abate. Opioid-related lawsuits focused on drugstore chains that sold massive amounts of prescription pills directly to consumers continue in other state and federal courts.