National settlement would bring Kentucky and its local governments $460 million over 18 years to fight opioid epidemic

Opioid tablets (Getty Images photo)

Kentucky’s Daniel Cameron and other state attorneys general announced Wednesday a tentative settlement with the nation’s three top drug distributors and drug maker Johnson & Johnson for their role in “creating and fueling the opioid epidemic,” as a Cameron press release put it.

The $26 billion deal with J & J, Cardinal HealthAmerisourceBergen and McKesson Corp. would resolve more than 4,000 claims that states and local governments have made in various courts, and bring an estimated $460 million to Kentucky, which state and local governments would split 50-50 over 18 years.
“The substantial majority of the money is to be spent on opioid treatment and prevention,” Cameron said at a briefing. His release said “Each state’s share of the funding has been determined by agreement among the states using a formula that takes into account the impact of the crisis on the state – the number of overdose deaths, the number of residents with substance use disorder, and the number of opioids prescribed – and the population of the state.”
Kentucky has been one of the states hardest hit by opioid abuse, which the pandemic has worsened. It had the second-highest percentage increase in overdose deaths in 2020.
The state’s use of its share would be overseen by a new Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission, authorized by the law the legislature passed to create the 50-50 split.

States have 30 days and local governments 150 days to adopt the settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said on PBS that he expects all states to adopt it. “A huge majority of states must sign on for the deal to proceed, although the companies have not specified an exact number,” reports Jan Hoffman of The New York Times. “If that threshold is not met, the companies could walk away and litigation would resume.”

If that happens, Cameron said he would continue fighting in court, and “Justice ultimately will be served.”
The agreement “leaves thousands of other lawsuits against many other pharmaceutical defendants still unresolved, including manufacturers, drug-store chains and smaller distributors,” Hoffman notes. “Most of those companies are working on negotiating their own deals, which could potentially bring even more money to states, cities, counties and tribes. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and its owners, members of the billionaire Sackler family, are negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement with plaintiffs as part of a bankruptcy restructuring.”
Republican state Rep. Danny Bentley of Russell, who sponsored the law on the settlement, called the deal “an important step toward remediating the opioid epidemic in Kentucky. Our citizens have suffered for far too long, and this settlement, once final, will allow Kentucky to combat that suffering.”
Under the agreement, Johnson & Johnson would stop selling and promoting opioids, and the three distributors would create a centralized, independent clearinghouse for data and analytics “about where drugs are going and how often, eliminating blind spots in the current systems used by distributors,” Cameron’s release said. They would “terminate customer pharmacies’ ability to receive shipments, and report those companies to state regulators, when they show certain signs of diversion.” Also, they must “prohibit sales staff from influencing decisions related to identifying suspicious opioid orders” and “require senior corporate officials to engage in regular oversight of anti-diversion efforts.”
Under a headline, “Too Little, Too Late?” The Economist says, “The payments cannot eradicate the damage that has been done. (Indeed, the companies continue to deny any wrongdoing.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that almost a half a million Americans died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2019. And the crisis is far from over. Almost three-quarters of recorded overdose deaths in America last year were linked to opioids.”
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