Four major drug companies have agreed to a landmark $26 billion settlement to resolve thousands of lawsuits from state and local governments over the opioid crisis, a coalition of state attorneys general announced Wednesday. The proposal calls for drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to pay $5 billion over nine years and AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, America's three largest drug distributors, to pay a total of $21 billion over 18 years, CNBC reports. States have 30 days to decide whether to accept the deal, and local governments will have 150 days, per NPR. The settlement proposal, which follows more than two years of negotiations, could clear the way for states to receive payments as soon as next year, reports the Wall Street Journal. The state AGs say the money will be used for addiction treatment and prevention efforts.
Numerous lawsuits accuse the distributors of failing to stop vast amounts of opioids being diverted to illegal channels, while Johnson & Johnson is accusing of downplaying the risk of addiction. "There's not enough money in the world frankly to address the pain and suffering," said Connecticut AG William Tong, per Reuters. The settlement amount will decrease if not enough states sign up to the agreement and some states, including Washington, have already said it isn't good enough. New York Attorney General Letitia James tells NPR that it's "very, very frustrating" that the four companies have not admitted wrongdoing in a crisis linked to more than 500,000 deaths, but to get the maximum amount, "we had to make concessions." As part of the deal, Johnson & Johnson has agreed to stop making opioids for at least a decade. (Read more opioids stories.)