Johnson & Johnson has reached a $230m agreement to settle an opioid lawsuit brought by the attorney general of New York state.
“The opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc on countless communities across New York state and the rest of the nation, leaving millions still addicted to dangerous and deadly opioids,” the New York attorney general, Letitia James, said in a press release.
“Johnson & Johnson helped fuel this fire, but today they’re committing to leaving the opioid business – not only in New York, but across the entire country.
“We are also delivering up to $230m to fund opioid prevention, treatment and education efforts across New York state. While no amount of money will ever compensate for the thousands who lost their lives or became addicted to opioids across our state or provide solace to the countless families torn apart by this crisis, these funds will be used to prevent any future devastation.”
Authorities across the US have accused drug companies and distributors of promoting the prescription of powerful opioid painkillers beyond medically necessary levels, prompting the addicted to seek out heroin and illicitly made fentanyl.
The Johnson & Johnson settlement stems from a civil lawsuit filed in March 2019 in an attempt “to hold accountable” drug manufacturers and distributors that fueled the opioid epidemic.
The suit also targeted Purdue Pharma; members of the Sackler Family, who own Purdue; Mallinckrodt; Endo Health Solutions; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA; Allergan Finance; McKesson; Cardinal Health; Amerisource Bergen; and Rochester Drug Cooperative.
The claims against Purdue, the Sackler family, Mallinckrodt and Rochester Drug Cooperative are proceeding through bankruptcy court. The other companies are scheduled to stand trial this week.
States and cities across the US have filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors over the past few years. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that from 1999 to 2019, almost 500,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit drugs.
The “first wave” of the epidemic started in the late 1990s, with increases in deadly overdoses involving prescription opioids. The next phase started in 2010, with a dramatic increase in overdose deaths involving heroin. In 2013, a third phase began with a surge in fatal overdoses involving synthetic opioids, especially illegally manufactured fentanyl, according to the CDC.
In February, James and a coalition involving almost every US state attorney general secured an agreement with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to provide $573m for opioid “treatment and abatement”. The agreement stems from investigations of McKinsey’s work for opioid companies to promote their drugs.
In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said it decided in 2020 to “discontinue all of its prescription pain medications in the United States”.
“The settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing by the company,” it said, adding that the agreement with New York state was in keeping with the terms of a previously announced $5bn “all-in” agreement to settle opioid lawsuits and claims by states, cities, counties and tribal governments.
The company said its actions “relating to the marketing and promotion of important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible”.
A Johnson & Johnson company, Janssen, created two prescription opioid medicines – a patch and a “crush-resistant” tablet. The company said those drugs comprised less than 1% of total opioid prescriptions in the US.
“Although these products are no longer sold in the US, the company continues to work with partners to help families and communities address their opioid-related issues,” Johnson & Johnson said.