Talk about cutting it close! Johnson & Johnson agreed on an opioid settlement with New York State just two days before the company was due to appear in court. The figure? $230 million. That may sound like a substantial amount to some, but to a company that made over $80 billion last year, it's a relatively paltry amount. Especially when you consider how much revenue the multinational giant generated from opioids, not to mention how many people died in the process.
But J&J isn't entirely to blame of course. The company was simply doing what it does best. It just happened to be able to do so amid a swirl of deregulation, lapsed oversight, cutthroat marketing and outright corruption. Okay, so maybe J&J did help create that favorable whirlwind. You couldn't prove it by the courts though. See the company admitted absolutely no wrongdoing. J&J didn't admit any liability either. In fact, it even issued a statement which claimed “the company’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible.”
Perhaps that $230 million payoff came about because the company was feeling unusually benevolent before the court case. How nice of them!
What's in the Opioid Settlement?
Johnson & Johnson was hip deep in the opioid racket. It's the parent of Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, makers of the Duragesic fentanyl patch. It also supplied much of the ingredients needed to manufacture opioids, including oxycodone, plus sold and manufactured a variety of painkillers itself.
J&J will now be forbidden from doing any such thing, in any capacity, in New York, as well as the other 49 States. Small price to pay considering J&J stopped providing opioid-making ingredients in 2016 and stopped selling opioids completely last year.
In other words, J&J knew this day would come. And they were well prepared. As for the money, well, the company claims that was no surprise either. In fact, it said the amount was right in line with the $5 billion that had been set aside to settle the entire field of pending lawsuits. (All in all, Johnson & Johnson and the largest US drug distributors -- AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson -- have proposed paying a combined $26bn to end thousands of opioid lawsuits.)
The New York Attorney General's Office issued a statement saying the $230 million will be distributed over the course of nine years, depending upon a variety of factors. The most important factor is whether the state’s executive chamber signs legislation — approved earlier this month — that creates an opioid settlement fund. If it does, the state would receive just over half of the money as soon as February 2022.
Who Else Has Been Targeted?
Our colleagues at Healing Properties have extensively covered the opioid crisis, as well as its culprits. Among the most egregious culprits perhaps was McKinsey & Company. McKinsey were the "unsung evil-doers" who served as consultants and lobbyists to OxyContin creators Purdue Pharma, which of course is owned by the Sackler Family. The Sacklers also got a good hard look, via the plugging of Patrick Radden Keefe's Empire of Pain (Doubleday). As did the whole damn epidemic, via an aligning with Alex Gibney's HBO doc The Crime of the Century. Then again, serving on the frontlines does tend to make one a little combative.
Speaking of combative... New York Attorney General Letitia James has been boldly fighting for the people of her state since she took office. The AG first went after Purdue Pharma and back in 2018, when she accused the company of fraud and deceptive marketing in pushing the addictive painkillers that ignited the mass killing epidemic. A year later she amended that lawsuit to include six national prescription opioid manufacturers, the Sackler family, plus four national prescription drug distributors.
Attorney General James also co-led a coalition of nearly every attorney general in the nation in delivering more than $573 million — more than $32 million of which was earmarked for New York state — toward opioid treatment and abatement in an agreement and consent judgment with McKinsey & Company.
That's not all. There's no doubt that AG James too played a key and considerable role in creating the kind of environment favorable to the aisle-crossing opioid settlement fund bills, not to mention setting in motion the actions that will enable the creation of the fund in the first place. A score of stakeholders have even said so.
This Tuesday AG James will face off with the few companies still willing to face her -- and a jury. That includes Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates; and Allergan Finance, LLC and its affiliates.
The cases against other original complainants, including Purdue Pharma (and subsequently the Sackler family), Mallinckrodt, and Rochester Drug Cooperative, are all now moving separately through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Who Gets the Money?
New York State already received $32 million as part of McKinsey's massive $573 million settlement, yet unfortunately much of that money didn't get to go to those who most need it. The new Opioid Settlement Fund is supposed to change all that. In fact, State Senator Pete Harckham, who was among the many legislators who were miffed by the initial miss, insists this time will be different.
"For too long the fight in the ongoing crisis in opioid overdoses has been underfunded, so additional resources are much needed for future education, prevention, and treatment efforts,” the Senator said in an AG Office statement. “But the only way to truly safeguard these funds is with legislation that creates a lockbox for opioid settlement money, with substance treatment providers and affected families being the sole beneficiaries."
Senator Harckham is chairman of the Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. We wrote about his lockbox idea earlier. And we wholeheartedly agree with everything about it. We must ensure the opioid settlement money goes where it's most needed. From treatment beds to sober homes, substance abuse education to recovery-friendly employment, there's not a single element of this crisis which couldn't use some serious expanding.
Like then, we also applaud the good senator's efforts. We've also got an especially resounding round of applause for Attorney General James and her office. The AG has been tirelessly fighting the good fight for a great, good while, and it's incredibly gratifying to see her great good efforts starting to pay off.
It's also incredibly gratifying to see the nation's officials all finally recognizing the seriousness of this issue. It's time to forget yesterday's prejudices, rid ourselves of those lifelong stigmas, and instead start saving lives. Between the pandemic and the epidemic, America just can't afford to lose any more.
How about you? Are you having substance issues? Would you like some help? Then please call Recovery Boot Camp. We'd be delighted to get you situated. In fact, we'd be downright honored. Just please pick up the phone.
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