Johnson & Johnson (J&J) on Tuesday announced that it has reached a settlement agreement with two Ohio counties in a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial later this month that claims opioid drugmakers, distributors, and others contributed to the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Observers say the Ohio counties' case could serve as a "bellwether" for similar lawsuits filed by more than 2,000 counties, cities, Native American tribes, and others throughout the United States. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland is overseeing both the Ohio case and a separate case that consolidates the more than 2,000 other lawsuits filed against the pharmaceutical industry into one suit. Drugmakers also face separate lawsuits brought by state attorneys general.
J&J is the fourth drugmaker to reach a settlement deal in the Ohio case. For instance, drugmaker Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals this week completed a settlement with the two Ohio counties. Under that deal, Mallinckrodt paid $24 million in cash and provided $6 million worth of generic products to Ohio's Cuyahoga and Summit counties, including medications used to treat opioid-related substance use disorders.
Allergan and Endo International also reached separate settlements with the counties, with the deals valued at $5 million and $10 million, respectively.
The remaining companies facing charges in the Ohio counties' lawsuit include AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Henry Schein, McKesson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Walgreens Boots Alliance.
J&J reaches settlement in Ohio counties' case, but still faces hundreds of other opioid suits
J&J and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals in a release said the settlement, which still must be approved by a federal judge, would resolve all of the claims brought against the companies by Ohio's Cuyahoga and Summit counties with no admission of liability, and would allow the companies to avoid going to trial.
Under the settlement deal, J&J has agreed to pay Cuyahoga and Summit counties a total of $10 million in cash, reimburse the counties $5 million in legal fees, and direct $5.4 million to nonprofits with opioid-related programs in the two counties.
Frank Gallucci, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, "This settlement represents yet another milestone in this litigation as it gets much-needed funding into the community while at the same time providing support for programs addressing opioid-exposed babies and their families."
However, J&J still faces hundreds of other opioid-related lawsuits.
J&J said, "The company recognizes the opioid crisis is a complex public health challenge and is working collaboratively to help communities and people in need" (Higham et al., Washington Post, 10/1; Randazzo, Wall Street Journal, 10/1; Kalia, Reuters, 10/1; Neuman, NPR, 10/2; J&J release, 10/1).