The lion's share of California cities and counties have signed off on a national settlement with four major pharmaceutical players to resolve allegations that they fueled the opioid crisis, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Wednesday, and that deal will award roughly $2.34 billion to state and local governments.
"We are one step closer to bringing much-needed relief and resources to communities in California and throughout the country," Bonta said. "Whether a family member, neighbor, or friend - far too many of us know someone whose life has been upended or tragically cut short because of opioid addiction. This settlement will not only hold Johnson & Johnson, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen accountable for their role in fueling the devastating opioid crisis, it is expected to bring billions of dollars to California to help those suffering with substance use disorders access the help they need to recover."
The settlement was negotiated with Cardinal, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, and it was approved by cities and counties representing roughly 97% of the state's population.
In total, the companies will pay out $26 billion to the states of California, North Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, Bonta said, and the settlement requires significant industry changes aimed at preventing this type of crisis from ever happening again.
The multistate lawsuit alleged that Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen -- all major drug distributors -- had not met their legal duty to refuse to ship opioids to pharmacies that submitted suspicious drug orders. Johnson & Johnson misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of opioids, the state's alleged.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that an estimated 10.1 million U.S. citizens age 12 and older acknowledged misuse of opioids - prescription drugs and heroin - in 2019, and roughly 71 percent of the 70,630 overdose deaths that year involved an opioid.
Bonta also recently announced a $573 million national settlement with McKinsey & Co., and that deal will garner more than $59 million to California for opioid abatement.
The California Department of Justice is continuing its legal battle against Purdue Pharma and its founding family, the Sacklers, accusing them of aggressively marketing oxycontin while downplaying its addiction and overdose risks. A settlement had been reached in the case, but in December a district court reversed a New York bankruptcy court's confirmation of a reorganization plan that would have shielded members of the Sackler family from any accountability.