SEATTLE ( Associated Press) — In a complicated trial in Washington over its role with the highly addictive painkiller, the nation’s three largest opioid distributors agreed Tuesday to pay the state $518 million, with the vast majority going to the state. was directed to reduce the addiction epidemic.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the deal, noting that it is tens of millions of dollars more than Washington would have received from the companies if it had reached a national agreement reached last summer involving distributors and Johnson & Johnson. would have signed.
The agreement still requires approval from a judge and dozens of Washington cities, which pursued their cases against distributors — McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisourcebergen Corp.
Under the agreement, the state would have to spend a total of $476 million to address the opioid crisis, including drug abuse treatment; Expanding access to overdose-reversal drugs; and providing housing, job placement and other services for people struggling with addiction. The rest of the money will go to litigation costs.
“We could have joined the overwhelming majority of states and settled with the biggest opioid distributors, but we chose to fight them in court,” Ferguson said. “The decision to take them to court will result in significant additional resources for Washington to tackle the opioid epidemic.”
The three companies announced earlier this year that 46 states have signed a national agreement, under which they will pay about $20 billion over 18 years.
Ferguson, a Democrat, declined to get involved, saying the state’s $418 million share from distributors would have been insufficient. Instead, they decided to go to separate lawsuits against the three distributors and against Johnson & Johnson.
The case against the distributors went to trial last November in King County Superior Court in Seattle, alleging violations of consumer protection and public nuisance laws, while the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson is scheduled for hearing in September.
The attorney general argued that all three companies shipped such large quantities of drugs to Washington that it was clear they were promoting addiction: opioid sales in the state increased by more than 500% between 1997 and 2011. In 2011, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were distributed 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, saying they only supplied opioids prescribed by doctors, and that they did not have a role to anticipate prescriptions or interfere with doctor-patient relationships.
Furthermore, the companies argued, Washington state itself played a large role in the pandemic. In the 1990s, concerned that people were being treated for chronic pain, lawmakers passed the Intractable Pain Act, which made opioids easier to prescribe.
In a written statement Tuesday, distributors said the agreement will “advance the companies’ goal of achieving comprehensive resolution of government opioid claims while providing meaningful relief to communities across the United States that have been affected by the opioid epidemic.”
Over the past two decades, the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans have been linked to opioid overdoses, including prescription pain and illicit drugs such as heroin and illegally produced fentanyl.
Across the US, several lawsuits filed by governments over the drug’s toll have been resolved in recent years—most with settlements, and some with judgments or verdicts in trials. So far, drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies have agreed to settlements worth more than $40 billion, according to an Associated Press tally.
The new Washington state agreement is the largest between a state and a company or group of companies, topping the $484 million deal announced in March between CVS and Florida.
Trials are ongoing in the courts of West Virginia, Florida and California. A decision has yet to be issued after another trial in West Virginia last year.
Associated Press reporter Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey contributed.