Two important settlements in the opioid litigation have been brokered with Big Pharma recently. While billions of dollars in community relief are promised, money does not reduce the ongoing loss and sorrow caused by rising overdose deaths across this country.
The headline in The New York Times reads, “It’s Huge, It’s Historic, It’s Unheard-of’: Drug Overdose Deaths Spike.” Since 1999, the number of people who die from opioid overdose has grown. There was a slight decline in deaths between 2018 and 2019. In 2020, along with Covid-19, opioid deaths ripped through American communities at an all-time high.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports 93,331 people died of overdose during 2020, setting milestones like “most drug overdose deaths in a year,” “most deaths from opioid overdose,” “most death from methamphetamines,” and “most deaths of the synthetic opioids fentanyls.” Between 600,000 people dead from Covid-19 and another 93,000 from opioid overdose, life expectancy in the US dropped by two years, the largest decrease since World War II. The opioid overdose deaths alone represent 3.5 million years of life lost.
While Covid swept the face of the planet unabated, the American opioid tragedy is a home-grown crisis manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry to make bank. From Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family that earned $30 billion on OxyContin sales, to manufacturers and distributors like Johnson & Johnson, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, who pushed pills to pharmacies and communities, a wide range of companies failed to warn physicians and patients about the danger and likelihood of addiction.
In an effort to stem the tide of litigation faced by these businesses that made staggering amounts of money from the death and suffering of others, an agreement was announced in July, 2021 between three distributors and Johnson & Johnson to pay $26 billion to state and local governments for their involvement in the opioid crises.
The deal was brokered by a bipartisan group of states attorneys general and is not encompassing of all the litigation still facing Johnson and Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Cardinal Health. Other agreements to be negotiated include those with Native American tribes, and those against smaller drug companies, distributors, and retailers.
The agreement is contingent upon buy-in from state entities across the country for the deal to remain attractive to the companies that are a party to it. Without significant participation from states that would otherwise sue the distributors, the deal could easily fall apart. On its own, Johnson and Johnson recently settled on the courthouse steps with the State of New York for $230 million. As part of the settlement, J&J agreed to permanently leave the opioid market—as a manufacturer or distributor—in the United States.
Money cannot buy happiness nor can it return loved ones lost too soon. However, money can fund prevention and recovery programs, outreach education, and services to communities with citizens in real need. For those with families torn apart by addiction, money and services may help ease the pain of life going forward—without the help of a pill.
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