Most Eligible California Cities, Counties Sign Onto $26 Billion Opioid Settlement With Drug Distributors

By Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.
January 27, 2022 Updated: January 27, 2022

Over 90 percent of eligible California cities and counties have signed onto a historic billion-dollar settlement with the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors over their alleged role in fueling the widespread opioid epidemic in the state, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Wednesday.

The $26 billion settlement with Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen as well as Johnson & Johnson, comes following investigations by state attorneys into whether the three companies failed to refuse to ship opioids to pharmacies that submitted suspicious drug orders.

It also focused on whether drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson had misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of opioid drugs, which are primarily used for pain relief.

In California, over 400 cities and counties—representing 97 percent of the state’s population—have signed on to the settlement, meaning that the state looks set to receive the full share of the national settlement, which is more than $2 billion, Bonta said.

The money is largely intended to fund opioid treatment and prevention and bring “much-needed relief to families throughout California whose lives have been upended by the opioid crisis,” Bonta said.

Negotiations on the settlement were led by Bonta and the attorneys general of North Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Once finalized, the settlement will put an end to the nearly 4,000 lawsuits that have been filed in both federal and state courts seeking to hold the distributors and drugmakers to account for their alleged roles fueling the opioid epidemic.

The companies have until Feb. 25 to decide whether to proceed with the deal and if they decide to move forward, the first payment will be made by the three distributors in April while Johnson & Johnson will make the first payment in July.

“We are one step closer to bringing much-needed relief and resources to communities in California and throughout the country,” said Bonta in announcing the news. “Whether a family member, neighbor, or friend—far too many of us know someone whose life has been upended or tragically cut short because of opioid addiction.”

“This settlement will not only hold Johnson & Johnson, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen accountable for their role in fueling the devastating opioid crisis, it is expected to bring billions of dollars to California to help those suffering with substance use disorders access the help they need to recover,” Bonta said.

Under the settlement, the three distributors will collectively pay up to $21 billion over 18 years while Johnson & Johnson will pay up to $5 billion over nine years, of which up to $3.7 billion must be paid within the first three years.

The exact amount the companies will ultimately pay will be determined by state and local government participation.

J&J said in a statement to Reuters that it is evaluating the level of participation by eligible local governments.

The Epoch Times had contacted Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson for comment.

Over the past two decades, the U.S. opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, drug overdoses across the nation reached a record high of 96,779, an increase of 29.6 percent in the period of a year from March 2020, of which opioids accounted for the highest number of reported drug overdose deaths in that time frame.

Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.