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Johnson & Johnson settles New York opioid case for $230 million
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Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay $230 million to the state of New York to resolve an opioid lawsuit slated to go to trial Tuesday, as negotiations intensify with the company and three drug distributors to clinch a $26 billion settlement of thousands of other lawsuits blaming the pharmaceutical industry for the opioid crisis.
Johnson & Johnson’s New York deal removes it from a coming trial on Long Island but not from the rest of the cases it faces nationwide, including a continuing trial in California. The New York settlement includes an additional $33 million in attorney fees and costs and calls for the drugmaker to no longer sell opioids nationwide, something Johnson & Johnson said it already stopped doing.
States have been trying to re-create with the opioid litigation what they accomplished with tobacco companies in the 1990s, when $206 billion in settlements flowed into state coffers. More than 3,000 counties, cities and other local governments have also pursued lawsuits over the opioid crisis, complicating talks that have dragged on since late 2019 and that have been slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Johnson & Johnson, along with the nation’s largest drug distributors, AmerisourceBergen Corp. , Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp. , have been in talks with state attorneys general and plaintiffs’ lawyers for local governments to resolve the cases for $26 billion.
The company said Saturday there continues to be progress on the nationwide deal and that it "remains committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for communities in need."
In recent weeks, the broader settlement discussions have picked up pace as trials began in California and West Virginia, according to lawyers involved.
The New York trial, which will be the first nationwide to be heard by a jury and the first to include companies from across the opioid supply chain, has added urgency to the negotiations. Testimony resumes Monday in the California trial, brought by several counties against four drugmakers, and in the West Virginia proceeding against drug distributors.
A core team of attorneys general have had regular settlement conferences by phone and "have engaged in in-person negotiations in New York on a near-daily basis over the course of the last few weeks," according to a disclosure made in mid-June in an opioid case in San Francisco.
The trials and settlement talks come after more than four years of litigation pursued by states, cities and counties to recover some of the costs of an opioid epidemic that has killed half a million people in the U.S. since 1999.
The governments allege that the pharmaceutical industry pushed opioids to be prescribed and distributed beyond what was medically necessary, creating widespread addiction that led to higher abuse of illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. The companies have broadly denied the claims and said they sold or distributed a legal, federally regulated product that is necessary for pain management.