J&J settles Ohio opioid case for $20.4M, avoids looming trial
J&J has agreed to a $20.4 million settlement with two Ohio counties that at the height of the opioid crisis saw around 1,000 combined annual overdose deaths, providing a large cash infusion for a pair of localities that have acted with fierce and sometimes controversial independence to combat severe local manifestations of a national epidemic.
The payout pales in comparison to the half-billion dollar fine the pharmaceutical giant was ordered to pay out in Oklahoma, although that deal covered the entire state rather than two counties.
This was the first federal trial brought in the opioid case, making it a flashpoint for the states, towns and tribes as well as the opioid makers and distributors involved in similar cases nationwide. Early next year, a similar case in West Virginia — the state with the highest rate of opioid deaths — is set to be taken up.
J&J will give the Cuyahoga and Summit counties $10 million combined, plus $5 million in legal fees and $5.4 million to opioid-related charities in the area, the company announced. They admitted no wrongdoing, maintaining they “responsibly marketed” their opioid drugs and “accounted for less than one percent of total opioid prescriptions in the United States.”
This won’t end opioid-related litigation for either J&J or the Ohio counties. Like other drugmakers, J&J faces over 2,000 other suits nationwide, while Cuyahoga and Summit both stand to earn payouts in the pending $12 billion Purdue Pharma payout and are continuing lawsuits against other companies. The two already received a combined $24 million from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals – a company DEA investigators once called “the kingpin of the drug cartel.” Endo International $ENDP and Allergan Plc $AGN also settled in August.
These settlements have not come without controversy or pushback from the other states and localities involved in the nationwide legal battle to put pharmaceutical industry cash in the hands of governments and charities trying to curb a nationwide crisis they say the industry started. In August, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost tried to delay the Cuyahoga and Summit trials, arguing they could set a precedent that would undercut state efforts to help a broader population.
“I just want to be absolutely clear that my interest in the law, that it should be consolidated under Ohio’s jurisdiction legally, does not change the fact that the money needs to be spent on the local level,” he said. “Because the misery and the addiction isn’t happening [just] in Columbus, it’s happening in communities all the way across the state.”
Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia agreed with Yost. Judge Dan Polster has also pushed for a national trial, even as he’s allowed the Cuyahoga and Summit case to go through. Facing volleys from all sides, J&J and other large pharmas also prefer consolidation and are pursuing a plan to join onto the massive Purdue Pharma deal in a bid to reach a global settlement.
J&J formerly marketed painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta and owned two companies that processed and imported the raw material for oxycodone, a drug often seen as the linchpin of the crisis.
Six pharmaceutical companies are still set to face trial on October 21. They are McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Henry Schein.