US drug firms ‘agree US$26bn opioid settlement’

US state attorneys general and lawyers for local governments are expected this week to unveil a landmark, US$26 billion settlement resolving claims that the three largest US drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson helped fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic, people familiar with the matter said.

Under the settlement proposal, distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen are expected to pay a combined US$21 billion, while Johnson & Johnson said it would pay US$5 billion.

More than 40 states are expected to support the settlement, the source said, while others could opt to move forward with their own cases. States will have 30 days to decide whether to join the global accord then more time to try to convince their cities and counties to participate in the deal, the sources said.

McKesson has previously said that of the US$21 billion the three distributors would pay over 18 years, more than 90 percent would be used to remediate the opioid crisis while the rest would be used to pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs.

Several states have passed laws or reached agreements with their political subdivisions to govern how settlement proceeds would be allocated in the event of a nationwide settlement.

The financial terms are in line with prior disclosures by the three distributors and J&J about what they expected to have to pay following long-running settlement talks.

“There continues to be progress toward finalising this agreement and we remain committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for families and communities in need,” J&J said in a statement.

McKesson had no comment. The other two distributors did not immediately respond to a request for comment. They have all previously denied wrongdoing.

Nearly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2019, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Reuters)