Governments get nearly $19 billion more in opioid legal deals

State and local governments to receive an additional $18.75 billion from drug chains and drug makers to settle lawsuits over their role in flooding the country with pain relief money intended to help communities still grappling with an unparalleled addiction and overdose crisis, lawyers announced Friday.

The settlements must be paid for by drugmakers Allergan and Teva, as well as CVS and Walgreens. The deals also include Walmart, which is expected to finalize its deal soon.

The deals emerge more than a year after pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, along with drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, have agreed to pay about $26 billion to settle. In total, more than $50 billion has been earmarked to settle wave after wave of lawsuits meant to hold companies accountable that failed to stop the flow and abuse of prescription pills in the 2000s and 2010s.

In recent years, the drug crisis has increasingly been driven by synthetic drugs, mainly illicit fentanyl manufactured in secret laboratories in Mexico and smuggled into the United States with devastating effect. Federal officials estimated that more than 109,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2022, with most of the deaths related to opioids.

In addition to nearly every state, more than 3,400 government entities, counties, cities and other local entities have signed on to the latest round of agreements finalized this week. The distribution of funds has been calculated by population adjusted for the impact of the crisis.

In addition to the broader national settlement, attorneys announced Friday that Walgreens has agreed to pay New Mexico $500 million to settle opioid prescription malpractice claims told during a two-month bench trial late last year . The same case led to $274 million in settlements from Albertsons, CVS, Kroger and Walmart.

State attorneys general said the last tranche of severance money would start flowing later this year: For example, Illinois will receive $518 million, Minnesota $208 million and Nebraska more than $65 million, all spread over 15 years.

Under agreements negotiated by a committee of plaintiffs’ attorneys and state attorneys general, at least 85 percent of the money must go to appease the drug crisis. Companies are required to change their practices to protect the public, including adopting more stringent monitoring systems for pharmacies to allow them to report suspicious orders that could lead to pills being diverted to black markets.

Teva, in a press release, said it has resolved its opioid dispute with all 50 states and 99% of other governments.

While the final settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing, it remains in the best interests of the company and the interests of those impacted by the opioid crisis to conclude this settlement and for Teva to continue to focus on the patients it serves every day. the company said. .

Pensacola, Fla., attorney Peter J. Mougey, who is part of the team leading the complex settlement talks, said the money is not compensation for the hundreds of thousands of opioid-related deaths over the past two decades, but it will throw a desperately needed lifeline to your future addiction problem.

Elected officials, public health officials and addiction specialists said they hope the money from the National Opioid Accord will help communities address the ongoing crisis, though strategies and program implementation vary from state to state.

Such approaches include stockpiling the opioid antidote naloxone and joining grassroots harm-reduction groups that aim to minimize the effects drugs inflict on users. Settlement money will also be used to pay for fentanyl awareness campaigns and to equip police with technology to fight drug trafficking. Rhode Island has earmarked funds to create an overdose prevention center where users can ingest drugs under the supervision of trained overdose prevention personnel, a concept that has met with resistance across the country.

Teva, which struck a separate deal with Nevada this week ahead of a trial, will pay the state $193 million over 20 years. The company said it plans to expand shipments of the generic version of the Narcan overdose spray to the states.

In Kentucky, where more than 2,200 people died of overdoses in 2021, the state is expected to receive about $840 million in combined settlements. A state commission had already awarded more than $8 million to groups working to reduce the harm caused by opioids and those specializing in addiction treatment and recovery. One proposal would pay for research into the plant ibogaine, which could be used for psychedelic-assisted therapy to curb addiction.

Mike O’Connell, county attorney for Jefferson County, Ky., which includes Louisville, said the money could also go to help people who are struggling with addiction have put a roof over their heads.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of this money go to affordable housing geared towards helping people with addictions, said O’Connell, who lost his 33-year-old son, Matt, to an overdose in 2014.

The national dispute with other defendants remains ongoing. Tribal nations have reached their own deals with pharmaceutical companies, while some cases are pending. The Cherokee Nation this week sued pharmaceutical distributor Morris & Dickson over its alleged role in the Oklahoma opioid crisis; the company is also facing the Drug Enforcement Administration revoking its license to distribute controlled substances.

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