Drug companies reach tentative $26 billion national opioid settlement

A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general on Wednesday announced a $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three of the country’s largest drug distributors regarding their roles in the U.S. opioid epidemic.

If approved, the three major drug distributors — Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen — would pay $21 billion over 18 years, a tiny percentage of their annual revenue. The companies also would not admit any wrongdoing.

Distributors were accused of ignoring red flags that billions of opioid pills were being illegally diverted onto the black market, and subsequently into communities.

As part of the deal: Johnson & Johnson, which once manufactured and marketed opioids, will pay up to $5 billion over nine years, with up to $3.7 billion paid during the first three years. The company also agreed to exit the opioid business.

The agreement would resolve the claims of both states and local governments across the country, including the nearly 4,000 that have filed lawsuits in federal and state courts.

However, none of the money will go to individual families, or people who suffer from opioid addiction. The substantial majority of the money is to be spent on opioid treatment and prevention, according to the attorneys general that negotiated the deal.

What’s next: States will have 30 days to sign on to the deal, and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) told reporters during a press conference he expects at least 40 states to agree.

But Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) already rejected the settlement, saying it is “not nearly good enough” and that he was ready to continue to litigate in court.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) already voiced his objections, and has said he will not support any settlement that distributes money based on population, rather than impact of the opioid crisis.