Three Largest US Drug Distributors to Shell Out $21 Billion in Landmark Opioid Settlement

In a landmark settlement deal, US state attorneys general have arrived at a plan under which thousands of opioid lawsuits will be ended as four large companies shell out a combined $26 billion.

As per the plan unveiled on Wednesday, the four drug companies -- McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp and Johnson & Johnson -- will make the payment over the deadly nationwide opioid epidemic allegedly caused by their products.

While drugmaker Johnson & Johnson will pay up $5 billion, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health are each to contribute $6.4 billion and McKesson will pay $7.9 billion.

Attorneys general of as many as 15 states sat together for stitching together the agreement.

Second-Largest Cash Settlement Ever

The opioid epidemic: About 142 Americans die everyday

Reuters said the deal is the second-largest cash settlement ever, after the massive $246 billion tobacco thrashed out more than 20 years ago.

Of the total settlement amount, a whopping $2.1 billion will be earmarked for the payment of the attorneys fees and legal costs.

What was Opioid Crisis?

The drug companies were accused of permitting inadequate checks and controls that ultimately led to the consumers being exposed to addictive painkillers over a long period of time. The companies were also accused, in some cases, of underscoring or hiding the deadly impact of the drugs. All the companies involved in the settlement have denied the charges.

What Are Opioids?

Mayo Clinic Explains: "Opioids are a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with opioid receptors in your cells. Opioids can be made from the poppy plant — for example, morphine (Kadian, Ms Contin, others) — or synthesized in a laboratory — for example, fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, others)"

"What makes opioid medications effective for treating pain can also make them dangerous. At lower doses, opioids may make you feel sleepy, but higher doses can slow your breathing and heart rate, which can lead to death. And the feelings of pleasure that result from taking an opioid can make you want to continue experiencing those feelings, which may lead to addiction."

How Will the Money be Used?

Johnson & Johnson said the money will be used the local governments' efforts to address the opioid crisis. There will be more funds to to be used on addiction treatment, family support, education and other social programs, Reuters reported.

"This settlement will directly support state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis," Johnson & Johnson's general counsel Michael Ullmann added. The other three companies said the settlement was a step toward achieving broad resolution of governmental opioid claims and delivering meaningful relief to communities.

What is fentanyl, the opioid drug 50 times stronger than heroin?

The Lawsuits

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 500,000 people in the country have died from opioid overdoses in the last 20 years alone. As the opioid threat came to the fore, lawsuits against the companies started being filed. These had swelled up to as many as 3,000, most of which were filed by state and local governments.

Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson Wikimedia Commons

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