Big pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors are largely to blame for fueling the opioid epidemic in the US, killing more people than most major wars—which is why they were served one of the largest packages of class action lawsuits in history.
Three of the largest pharmaceutical wholesalers and Johnson & Johnson reached a $26 billion deal to settle a chorus of around 3,000 lawsuits from state governments, city governments and even tribal organizations, accusing the companies of fomenting the opioid crisis.
Why? Because the number of synthetic opioid deaths has sailed far beyond the total number of drug overdose death tolls from heroin, methamphetamine and other street drugs, according to multiple agencies that report to the federal government—and frankly, people are sick of it.
The drug makers and distributors are accused of downplaying the risk of addiction to opioids—while simultaneously encouraging doctors with perks to overprescribe pills to people who didn’t need it, in some cases.
Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson joined Johnson & Johnson to agreed to pay a combined amount of $26 billion to settle allegations that they fueled the country’s opioid crisis, and should be held accountable.
The $26 billion settlement, announced by a group of state attorneys general, varies by company and will be paid out over time: Johnson & Johnson will pay $5 billion over nine years; AmerisourceBergen will pay $6.4 billion over 18 years; Cardinal Health will pay $6.4 billion over 18 years and finally McKesson will pay $7.9 billion over 18 years. Each of the three drug distributors have already set aside funds in anticipation of a settlement, Axios reports.
State leaders are thrilled to hold the companies accountable for their roles in the crisis that has clearly spun out of control. While there are people with high levels of pain that have a genuine need for powerful opioids, abuse runs rampant.
In a July 21 press release North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, for instance, he didn’t show the corporations an ounce of sympathy for the drug companies in his announcement: “The opioid epidemic has torn families apart and killed thousands of North Carolinians,” Stein said. “Families across our state have shared with me their heart-wrenching stories about their loved ones who are struggling with the horrible disease of addiction or who overdosed and died. It has been my genuine honor on their behalf to lead these negotiations to hold accountable the companies that helped to create and fuel this crisis.”
The case has been building steam over the past few years. Things came to a head in 2019—when dozens of lawsuits from multiple states started pouring in. Lawyers representing the State of Oklahoma accused the healthcare conglomerate of playing a central role in the opioid epidemic in the United States—after being sick and tired of watching people get hooked on opioids. “They didn’t get here from a Mexican cartel. They got here from the pharmaceutical cartel, and the kingpin of them all is Johnson & Johnson Oklahoma state lawyer Brad Beckworth said.
Opioid and Drug Crisis Killed More Americans than World War II
Since 1999, around 841,000 people overdosed on drugs—70 percent of which were opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and opioid overdoses increased six-fold in the same time period. That eclipses the total number of World War II US casualties.
Nearly 50,000 people dropped dead in 2019—73 percent in which involved synthetic opioids. But that’s not all: according to provisional data released July 21 by the CDC, drug overdoses in the US soared by nearly 30 percent in 2020, reaching a record high of 93,331—almost 100,000.
For more information, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at the CDC collects information on drug overdose deaths involving many of the more commonly used drugs at a searchable database, called CDC Wonder.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications.