Friday, November 06, 2020

Drug distributors, J&J agree on $26 billion opioid settlement, but lawyer for W.Va. local governments says it's not enough

The nation's three major drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson "are closing in on a $26 billion deal with state and local governments that would end thousands of lawsuits over the companies’ role in the opioid epidemic," reports Jan Hoffman of The New York Times. "The deal is $4 billion more than an offer made a year ago, that was rejected by many states and municipalities. A major difference in the latest offer is $2 billion earmarked for private lawyers who represent cities, counties, and some states."

But now those lawyers have to get their clients to accept the deal, and in West Virginia, probably the state most damaged by opioids, there is resistance. The state government settled its part of the case long ago, but local governments still have their own lawsuits in federal court, and one by the City of Huntington and Cabell County is set for a bench trial Jan. 4. "The lead lawyer, Paul T. Farrell Jr. has not agreed to the offer," the Times reports.

“West Virginia fully supports the national settlement on behalf of every other state,” Farrell told the Times. “It’s just not good enough for us.” Eric Eyre of Mountain State Spotlight notes, "The companies have made clear that they want a national deal that resolves all lawsuits against them, not a patchwork of settlements."

The proposed settlement involves four of the top defendants in the nationwide litigation: J&J, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. "Other drug manufacturers and the national pharmacy chains are still facing thousands of such cases," the Times notes. "Most of the money from the settlement deal is intended to help pay for treatment and prevention programs in communities ravaged by addiction and overdoses."

"West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, and overdoses have increased this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to preliminary data from the state Office of Drug Control Policy," reports Eyre, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his opioid coverage and wrote a book about it, Death in Mud Lick.

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