J&J and Drug Distributors to Pay $589 Million Settlement to Native American Tribes Over Opioid Crisis

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Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and three of the nation’s largest drug wholesalers and distributors have agreed to pay $589 million in settlement after hundreds of native tribes accused the companies of fueling the opioid crisis in their communities.

The three pharmaceutical distributors—Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen Corp., and McKesson Corp.—will pay more than $439 million in settlement over seven years. The Janssen-owned Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay $150 million over two years.

The plaintiffs accused J&J of understating the addiction risks of opioids in its marketing campaign, and accused the distributors of letting addictive painkillers be diverted into illegal channels, according to court filings (pdf).

The native tribes, represented by the Tribal Leadership Community, stated in court filings that tribal governments have had to spend “considerable tribal funds to cover the costs of the opioid crisis” including costs for “health care, social services, child welfare, law enforcement, and other government services” which has imposed “severe financial burdens” on the plaintiffs.

“We’re not solving the opioid crisis with the settlement, but we are getting critical resources to tribal communities to address the crisis,” stated Steven Skikos, a lawyer for the tribes, in a telephonic court hearing, according to Reuters.

J&J told Reuters in a statement that it did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement and that the company was “appropriate and responsible” in its role of promoting opioid pain relief prescription medications.

This follows a 2019 lawsuit in which the drug distributors agreed to pay $75 million to resolve similar claims made by Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Cherokee tribes recognized by the federal government.

A 2016 report (pdf) released by the National Congress of American Indians found that American Indians suffered the highest rate (8.4 overdose deaths per capita) of opioid overdoses, followed by whites (7.9 overdose deaths per capita).

All 574 federally recognized tribes will be able to receive money from the settlements even if they had not filed the lawsuits, according to Tara Sutton, an attorney for the tribes, in a Feb. 1 statement to The Wall Street Journal.

The settlement comes a week after 44 U.S. states agreed to a $26 billion settlement proposed by the three drug distributors and J&J to resolve thousands of similar lawsuits accusing the companies of fueling the opioid epidemic.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen Corp., McKesson Corp., and Janssen for comment.

Tammy Hung

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