Four companies that made or distributed prescription opioids and played roles in the catastrophic opioid crisis have reached a tentative $26 billion settlement with counties and cities that sued them in the largest federal court case in U.S. history, reports the Washington Post. The settlement offer from manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and the “Big Three” distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, potentially brings a large measure of legal closure for the companies and will funnel money to communities devastated by an addiction crisis that claims more than 70,000 lives in the U.S. every year. That death toll continues to rise even as it is overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The tentative deal must still pass muster with judges who have been handling the complex litigation in federal and state courts.
States must get local jurisdictions to agree to the terms because the payouts to the states will take place over 18 years and diminish if communities do not sign on, said plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Farrell Jr. Another feature of the deal is a $2 billion fund to compensate the hundreds of law firms involved in the litigation. The move it designed to ward off accusations that the lawyers would be siphoning away money communities desperately need. “I’m hopeful that the process that we have negotiated brings about the eventual end of the opioid epidemic,” Farrell said. “But we still have a lot of work to do.” It was unclear to what extent state attorneys general, who have separately sued the companies, support of the tentative settlement. Part of the complexity of the opioid litigation has been the sharp-elbowed competition among different government entities and private law firms to play the dominant role. The deal does not approach the 1998 settlement between states and major tobacco companies, which totaled more than $206 billion over 25 years.