Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Over 400 Native American tribes agree to $665 million opioid deal with Johnson & Johnson, other drug companies

"Hundreds of Native American tribes, devastated disproportionally in the opioid epidemic, tentatively agreed to settle with the country’s three major drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson for $665 million," Meryl Kornfield reports for The Washington Post. "McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen would pay $515 million over seven years and Johnson & Johnson would contribute $150 million in two years to the federally recognized tribes, resolving litigation in dozens of states with tribal reservations, according to documents filed Tuesday in federal court in Cleveland . . . The settlement with distributors includes $75 million they agreed in September to pay the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma."

The settlement is the first of its kind for Native American tribes, and is similar to the July 2021 settlement in which the four companies agreed to pay states, counties and cities $26 billion for their role in the opioid pandemic. "The deal comes months before the first federal opioid trial for a Native American tribe, with the Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit against CVS, Walgreens and Walmart being heard in September in Oklahoma federal court. A bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, which is under negotiation, would also set aside settlement money for tribes."

The settlement buttresses the "public nuisance" strategy that has been prominent in opioid tort litigation. That tactic has been called into question in recent months after two state courts threw out settlements predicated on claims that drug companies created a public nuisance by encouraging the opioid epidemic. Still, plaintiffs remain skittish, and the Cherokee Nation recently dropped its public-nuisance claim in the Oklahoma suit, Adam Lidgett reports for Law360.

"This resolution speeds up the process of getting funds, as the sprawling opioid litigation throughout the country has taken years to reach courtrooms," Kornfield reports. "Overseen by a panel of tribal health experts, the money from this deal would go toward programs that aid drug users and their communities — a help to tribal governments bearing severe financial burdens for the health care, social services, child welfare and law enforcement resources expended during the opioid crisis. About 15 percent of funds will go toward attorneys’ fees." Native Americans were nearly 50% more likely to die from an opioid overdose than non-natives from 2006 to 2014.

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