Three US drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson reach agreement to settle opioid epidemic tribal claims.
The three largest US drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson have agreed to pay $590 million to settle claims by Native American tribes that the companies have fueled an opioid epidemic in their communities, court documents show.
The filing in the US District Court in Cleveland, Ohio, details settlements with Johnson & Johnson and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.
The tribal settlements are part of more than $40 billion worth of settlements, penalties and fines.
The drugs, including prescription ones like OxyContin and illicit ones like heroin and illicit fentanyl, have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths across the country over the past two decades.
Many US tribes have been hit hard by the addiction and overdose crisis. A study cited in the comparison found that Native Americans had the highest per capita rate of opioid overdoses of any population in 2015.
More than 400 tribes and intertribal organizations, representing about 80 percent of Indigenous citizens, have complained about opioids. All state-recognized tribes can participate in the newly filed settlements even if they have not filed an opioid allegation.
Under the terms of the agreement, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson will pay $150 million over two years and the distributors will contribute $440 million over seven years. Each tribe would decide whether to participate. The bulk of the money is intended to help tribes address the damage the epidemic is doing to their communities by funding treatments and other programs.
Johnson & Johnson reported net income of $20.8 billion in 2021.
The newly announced agreement is separate from a $75 million agreement between the Cherokee Nation and the three distributors reached in court last year.
The same four companies are nearing the final stages of approving $26 billion in settlements with state and local governments in the United States. They have until the end of this month to decide if enough government agencies have signed on to go ahead with the deal.
This proposed settlement did not cover lawsuits and potential claims from the 574 federally recognized Alaskan Native American tribes and villages, which have long had rates of drug overdose deaths higher than the national average.
Opioid addiction and deaths are a nationwide problem in the US. In Washington, DC, a recent spate of overdose deaths, possibly from illegal fentanyl, has local authorities concerned.
MPD, @DEAWashingtonDC, @DBHRecoversDC and @dcfireems provide an update on district narcotics overdoses. https://t.co/npibP7uBZG
— DC Police Department (@DCPoliceDept) January 31, 2022
More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed – mostly by state, local and tribal governments trying to blame corporations for the opioid epidemic.
The lawsuits accuse distributors of lax controls that have allowed vast quantities of addictive painkillers to be diverted into illicit channels and drugmakers, including J&J, to downplay the risk of addiction in their opioid marketing. The companies deny any wrongdoing.
According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States in the 12 months ended April 2021 — a nearly 30 percent increase in deaths.
According to US data, the number of overdose deaths in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic had risen to 93,000, dwarfing the 72,000 drug-related deaths of the previous year.