(Camden, NJ) – Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and three major distributors finalized settlements nationwide about their role in the opioid addiction crisis Friday, an announcement that paved the way for $26 billion flows to nearly every state and local government in the United States
Taken together, the settlements are by far the largest of the many ongoing opioid-related cases around the country. They are expected to give a significant boost to efforts to reverse the crisis in places already ravaged by it, including many rural areas of the United States.
Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson announced plans to settle last year, but the deal depends on getting the participation of multiple state and local governments.
Friday is the deadline for companies to announce whether they feel enough governments have committed to participating in the settlement and waive the right to sue. The four companies have notified government attorneys in case their thresholds have been met, meaning money could start flowing to communities in April.
“We will never have the money to immediately fix this problem,” said Joe Rice, one of the lead attorneys representing the local government in the lawsuit that led to the settlement. “What we’re trying to do is give a lot of small communities a chance to try to change some of their problems.”
While no payments will go directly to opioid victims or their survivors, much of that money is required to be used to respond to the epidemic. The need for funding is deepening.
Kathleen Noonan, CEO of the Camden Healthcare Providers Alliance, said part of the settlement money should be used to provide housing for homeless addicts.
“We have clients who have difficulty maintaining cleanliness in a shelter,” she said. “We want to stabilize them so we can help them recover.”
Dan Keashen, a spokesman for the Camden County government, said officials are thinking about using settlement money for a public education campaign to warn about the dangers of fentanyl. They also want to send more drug counselors to the streets, put more social workers in the city courts and pay for anti-addiction drugs at the county jail.
Officials around the country are considering pumping money into similar priorities.
California Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget calls for using $50 million of the state’s projected $86 million share this year for youth opioid education and training providers. provide treatment, improve data collection and distribution naloxonea medicine that helps reverse an overdose.
In Broward County of Florida, where Fort Lauderdale is located, the number of beds in a county-run rehab facility could be expanded from 50 to 70 or 75, said Danielle Wang French, a county attorney, said.
“It wasn’t enough, but it was a good start,” she said of the deal.
With fatal overdoses continuing to rage across the United States, largely due to the spread of fentanyl and other illegally manufactured synthetic opioids, public health expert is urging governments to use the money to ensure access to drug treatment for addicts. They also emphasize the need to fund proven programs, collect data on their efforts, and launch youth-targeted prevention efforts, while focusing on racial justice.
“Don’t: get ready, set your spending,” said Joshua Sharfstein, a former secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and now associate dean of the department of public health at Johns Hopkins University. “It should be: think, strategize, spend.”
In a separate deal also included in the $26 billion, the four companies reached a $590 million settlement with federally recognized Native American tribes. About $2 billion is being set aside to pay the fees and expenses of attorneys who have spent years working on the case.
New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson has nine years to pay out its $5 billion stake. Distributors – AmerisourceBergen is headquartered in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania; Cardinal Health is based in Columbus, Ohio; and Irving, Texas-based McKesson — agreed to pay their combined $21 billion over 18 years. To reach the maximum amount, states must ask local governments to participate.
Settlements go beyond money. J&J, which has stopped selling prescription opioids, agreed not to continue. Distributors agree to send data to a billing facility to help flag when prescription drugs are diverted to the black market.
The companies do not admit wrongdoing and are continuing to defend themselves against claims that they helped fuel the opioid crisis by entities unrelated to the settlement.
Claiming most of the money to be used to tackle the opium crisis contrasts with a series of public health settlements in the 1990s with tobacco companies. In those cases, states have used large amounts of settlement money to fill budget gaps and fund other priorities.
The amount sent to each state under the opioid agreement depends on a formula that takes into account the severity of the crisis and the population. County and local governments also receive their share of the money. Several states – Alabama, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Washington and West Virginia – did not participate in all or part of the settlement, mainly because they had separate transactions or were preparing for trial.
In Camden, Lisa Davey, a rehabilitation specialist for the Maryville Addiction Center, spent a exchange needles This week gave out naloxone, a drug that reverses overdose, and asked people if they wanted to start treatment.
Davey said she’d like to see addiction and treatment programs get more funding to keep people staying longer. Users can detox and return to the streets to search for drugs within a few days, she said.
“They need more time to recover,” she said.
A man who picked up clean needles asked to be identified only as Anthony P. said he is 46 years old and has struggled with addiction since he was a teenager. He says he’d like to see an effort to cut out fentanyl and related synthetic opioids that are driving drug overdose deaths.
“Fentanyl has to go,” he said.
Martha Chavis, president and chief executive officer of the Camden Regional Center for Health Education, which operates the needle exchange, said one need is to provide services like hers in more places. . Now, users from far-flung suburbs come to Camden to get clean needles and kits to test their drugs for fentanyl.
The agreement with J&J and three distributors marks an important step in resolving a series of lawsuits in the US over liability for an epidemic linked to the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans over the past two decades. .
Other companies, including business consultant McKinsey and drugmakers Endo, Mallinckrodt and Teva, have arrived in national settlements or a series of local settlements. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and a group of states are mediation through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to try to reach a nationwide settlement.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with opioid-related deaths in the US reaching more than 76,000 in the 12 months ending April 2021, largely due to the spread of fentanyl and other laboratory-produced drugs. ONE recent report from a commission of Lancet The medical journal predicts that 1.2 million Americans could die from an opioid overdose between 2020 and 2029 without policy changes.
John F. Kelly, professor of addiction psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said he’d like to see money from settlements not just for treatment, recovery and support efforts, but for building. systems are designed to prevent this kind of disease from happening. Again.
“Some kind of national council or organization could be established… to prevent this kind of oversight from happening again – where industry is allowed to create a public health hazard,” he said. ” he said.