Washington Reaches $518 Million Settlement With Opioid Distributors
After months of complex litigation over their role in flooding Washington with highly addictive painkillers, the nation’s three largest opioid distributors agreed on Tuesday to pay the state $518 million, with the vast majority of it going to ease the addiction epidemic.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the deal, noting that it is worth tens of millions of dollars more than Washington would have received from the companies if it had signed a national agreement reached last summer involving distributors and Johnson & Johnson.
The agreement still requires the approval of a judge and dozens of Washington cities that have pursued their own cases against distributors – McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisource Bergen Corp.
Under the settlement, the state will have to spend $476 million of the total to address the opioid crisis, including drug treatment; expanding access to medicines for overdose; providing housing, employment and other services to those struggling with addiction. The rest of the money will go to legal costs.
“We could have joined the vast majority of states and negotiated with the biggest opioid distributors, but instead chose to fight them in court,” Ferguson said. “This decision to sue them will give Washington significant additional resources to fight the opioid epidemic.”
Earlier this year, the three companies announced that 46 states had signed a national settlement agreement that would see them pay out nearly $20 billion over 18 years.
Ferguson, a Democrat, refused to join, calling the state’s $418 million share from distributors insufficient. Instead, he decided to sue the three distributors and separately Johnson & Johnson.
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The case against the distributors went to trial last November in Seattle’s King County Superior Court on charges of violating consumer protection laws and disturbing the peace, and the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson is due in September.
The attorney general argued that the three companies shipped such huge quantities of drugs to Washington that it was clear they were addictive: opioid sales in the state rose by more than 500% between 1997 and 2011. of all prescription opioids were dispensed in the state—enough for a 16-day supply for each resident. In 2015, eight of Washington’s 39 counties had more prescriptions than residents.
The companies denied the allegations. They said they were merely supplying the opioids prescribed by the doctors and it was not their job to revise prescriptions or interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.
In addition, the companies argued that the state of Washington itself played a large role in the epidemic. In the 1990s, concerned about the undertreatment of people with chronic pain, legislators passed the Intractable Pain Act, which made it easier to prescribe opioids.
In a written statement on Tuesday, the distributors said the settlement “will further the companies’ goals of broadly resolving government opioid claims while providing meaningful relief to communities in the United States that have been hit by the opioid epidemic.”
Over the past two decades, more than 500,000 American deaths have been attributed to opioid overdoses, including prescription painkillers and illicit drugs such as heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl.
In recent years in the US, many lawsuits filed by governments over drug losses have been settled – most have been settled, and some with court decisions or verdicts in lawsuits. According to the Associated Press, drug makers, distributors and pharmacies have negotiated payments totaling more than $40 billion so far.
The new settlement in Washington state is the largest single state-to-company or group-of-company deal, surpassing the $484 million deal announced in March between CVS and Florida.
Litigation takes place in the courts of West Virginia, Florida and California. The decision is yet to be made after another trial last year in West Virginia.