Four companies are closing in on a $26 billion settlement of lawsuits over their roles in the opioid crisis. The deal would prevent state and local governments from suing the companies in the future. Some of the governments had rejected a similar package last year; the companies added $4 billion to the pot since then, the New York Times reports. Most of the money would fund treatment and prevention programs. Of the total, $2 billion is set aside for private lawyers who represent some of the governments. "The deal gets money to all of the communities in the United States that are suffering from insult upon injury, first from the opioid epidemic and now with COVID as well," said Paul Hanly Jr., the lead lawyer. Three distributors are involved: McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen. The fourth company is a manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson.
Over 18 years, the three distributors agreed to pay $21 billion, while Johnson & Johnson will pay $5 billion, chiefly in the first three years of the agreement. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, settled last month with the federal government for $8.3 billion. Federal and state judges would have to approve the pending settlement with the four companies, per the Washington Post, for it to go through. Negotiations have gone on for almost two years, and the litigation now is the largest federal court case in the nation's history. In the 10-year period ending in 2018, 232,000 people in the US died of prescription opioid overdoses, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "I'm hopeful that the process that we have negotiated brings about the eventual end of the opioid epidemic," says attorney Paul Farrell. "But we still have a lot of work to do." (Read more opioids stories.)