Johnson & Johnson has shaken off another lingering liability claim in the US, agreeing a $263 million settlement with New York to resolve lawsuits focused on its role in the US opioid crisis.
The last-ditch agreement over the weekend means that a jury trial due to start today will now go ahead without Johnson & Johnson, although other defendants will still be in the spotlight. J&J also said in a statement that it committed to exiting its opioid painkiller business altogether last year.
While the company didn’t provide finished opioid drugs, Johnson & Johnson supplied raw materials used to make them, and has been accused by various US states of using deceptive marketing to say the drugs were effective for treating pain and were unlikely to cause addiction.
The settlement relates to its marketing and promotion of Duragesic (fentanyl), Nucynta (tapentadol) and Nucynta ER products, which are no lomger on sale in the US.
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, – said NY attorney general Letitia James, – 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.
J&J said that the New York settlement is not an admission of liability, and is consistent with its $5 billion all-in settlement announced last October that would resolve all opioid-related claims brought by “states, cities, counties and tribal governments.”
The settlement money is payable over nine years, with £130 million due by February 2022, and will be used to fund opioid prevention, treatment, and education efforts across the state. J&J has also committed to notifying when the last of the inventory of opioids it has already shipped expires.
The trial due to start today will now concentrate on finished dose opioid producers – Endo Health and Teva – as well as the ‘big three’ US wholesalers McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen.
A related complaint against drugmakers Mallinckrodt and Purdue Pharma, as well as wholesaler and Rochester Drug Cooperative, are being pursued in the bankruptcy courts.
From 1999–2019, nearly 500,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids, according to figures from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2019, more than 70% of the 70,630 deaths recorded in that year involved an opioid.
The lawsuits involving pharmaceutical manufacturers focus mainly on the “first wave” of the opioid crisis in the 1990s and 2000s, which the CDC says was driven by increased prescribing of painkillers.
Two subsequent waves gave been linked to heroin use, starting in 2010, and a fresh rise in overdoses in deaths in 2013 linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl found in counterfeit medicines as well as illicit drugs.
The latest settlement comes four weeks after J&J was ordered to pay $2.1 billion in damages to women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in the drugmaker’s baby powder products, after the US Supreme Court refused to review the case. Last year, the company said it would stop selling its baby powder in the US and Canada after sales plummeted.