The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors have reached a tentative agreement to pay $26 billion to settle lawsuits against them over the opioid epidemic.
Details of the settlement, which could end more than two years of litigation with the governments of 44 states and many other jurisdictions, will be released this week.
The settlement, which also involves opioid distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, also includes another $1 billion in settlement of some New York state lawsuits, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The $26 billion settlement includes $21 billion to be paid by the distributors and $5 billion by Johnson & Johnson.
Between 1999 and 2019, nearly half a million people died in the United States from overdoses of prescription or illegally-obtained opioids, and state and city governments have been negotiating compensation for more than two years.
The plaintiffs include the governments of 44 states, which will have 30 days to decide whether to accept the settlement, which will require an effort to convince their municipal governments that they incurred costs in dealing with the opioid epidemic.
In addition to the states, the plaintiffs include thousands of communities, from cities, counties, Indian tribes and other jurisdictions, that have been fighting for years in litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The Washington Post explained that at least 44 states, 95% of cities, counties and other plaintiffs, and 90% of non-litigating jurisdictions must sign the pact to receive a portion of the awards.
“However, the tentative settlement is as close as this protracted legal battle has come to a conclusion,” added the newspaper, which cites insiders familiar with the agreement.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in the country in 2020, a 30% increase over the previous year’s figure, which had already been a record.
Of those deaths, 69,710 were attributed to opioid overdoses.