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Yost announces $26 billion settlement with drug distributors, Johnson & Johnson to end opioid lawsuits

A government report revealed that overdose deaths rose to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit: WBNS-TV
Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost speaks in Columbus, Ohio in March 2020.

The three biggest U.S. drug distribution companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson have agreed to a $26 billion nationwide settlement for their roles in the opioid epidemic, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Wednesday. 

The companies involved in the settlement are AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal and McKesson. The conditions of the settlement are:

  • The three distributors collectively will pay up to $21 billion over 17 years.
  • Johnson & Johnson will pay up to $5 billion over nine years with up to $3.7 billion paid during the first three years.
  • The total funding distributed will be determined by the overall participation of both litigating and non-litigating state and local governments.
  • A substantial portion of the money must be spent on opioid treatment and prevention.
  • Each state’s share of the funding has been determined by agreement among the states using a formula that takes into account the impact of the crisis on the state – the number of overdose deaths, the number of residents with substance use disorder, and the number of opioids prescribed – and the population of the state.

Yost said over a 10-year span, the drug distributors are required to:

  • Establish a centralized independent clearinghouse to provide all three distributors and state regulators with aggregated data and analytics about where drugs are going and how often, eliminating blind spots in the current systems used by distributors.
  • Use data-driven systems to detect suspicious opioid orders from customer pharmacies.
  • Terminate customer pharmacies’ ability to receive shipments, and report those companies to state regulators when they show certain signs of diversion.
  • Prohibit shipping of suspicious opioid orders and report such suspicious orders.
  • Prohibit sales staff from influencing decisions related to identifying suspicious opioid orders.

Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to stop selling opioids in addition to:

  • Not fund or provide grants to third parties for promoting opioids.
  • Not lobby on activities related to opioids.
  • Share clinical trial data under the Yale University Open Data Access Project.
  • Require senior corporate officials to engage in regular oversight of anti-diversion efforts.

The settlement stems from Yost and other state leaders' investigations into whether the three distribute fulfilled their legal duty to refuse to ship opioids to pharmacies that submitted suspicious drug orders. 

The investigation also looked into whether Johnson & Johnson misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of opioid drugs. 

A government report revealed that overdose deaths rose to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz said the county has seen a 45.6% increase in overdose deaths last year compared to 2019. 

The distribution companies face thousands of similar legal claims from state and local governments across the country and have long been trying to settle them all.