Pharmaceutical companies have been widely criticized for their role in the opioid addiction crisis. Now, four of the biggest US drug giants have agreed to pay $26 million to settle claims.
Earlier this week, following proposals from a group of state attorney generals, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen are expected to pay a total of $21 billion.
In addition to this, Johnson & Johnson (J&) said it will pay compensation of $5 billion over the next five years to resolve the claims against it.
McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen were all accused of ignoring shipments of painkillers that were sent to illegal distribution channels. Johnson & Johnson was accused of downplaying the risk of addiction in its marketing materials.
The harm caused by the opioid crisis
In the US and other countries, opioid addiction to both legal and illegal drugs has become a serious and ongoing issue in the last decade.
Between 1999 and 2019, there have been nearly half a million deaths in the US alone from overdoses, according to reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Opioids are a powerful class of drugs found in opium poppies. They can be used to block pain signals between the body and brain. They are sometimes found in legal prescription painkillers, as well as illegal street drugs like heroin.
In a statement, New York attorney general Letitia James said that these companies have “fuelled the fire of opioid addiction for more than two decades”.
She added, “While no amount of money nor any action can ever make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost or the millions more addicted to opioids, we can take every action possible to avoid any future devastation.”
If approved by enough states, this proposed agreement will resolve nearly 4000 claims in federal and state courts against the companies.
The majority of the settlement would pay for opioid treatment and prevention programs. It would then be allocated to states according to population size, the number of opioids prescribed, and the total number of opioid overdose deaths during the crisis.