Defendant J&J Ups Settlement Figure to $5B in Prescription Opioid MDL

Timed with the announcement of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) and its U.S.-based Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies’ third-quarter earnings, a press release published on October 13 disclosed that the company will increase its contribution to resolve government-backed opioid lawsuits by $1 billion. The settlement, if finalized, could partly resolve the multidistrict litigation, In Re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation, a consolidation of nearly 3,000 civil cases. The plaintiffs seek to rectify harm wrought by companies who manufactured, marketed, and distributed prescription opioid drugs, allegedly inciting a countrywide epidemic.

The plaintiffs are a collection of state and local governments and Indian Tribes from around the country. They accuse the manufacturers of employing deceptive marketing practices and “ignoring red flags indicating the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses,” a Reuters article explained.

For example, a consolidated complaint filed by plaintiff the Muscogee (Creek) Nation claimed that “[m]anufacturers of prescription opioids poured enormous sums of money into carefully calculated marketing strategies that misstated the risks of opioids. Members of the prescription opioid supply chain utterly failed to meet their duties and legal obligations to prevent diversion.” The September 2018 complaint was brought to address the consequences of the opioid epidemic that has “devastated” American communities, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and reported by the Muscogee Nation’s complaint.

J&J’s press release explained that the new figure represents an increase from the $4 billion agreement reached in October 2019 that was announced by a committee of state attorneys general. The previous figure also called for distributor defendants McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., and AmerisourceBergen Corporation to pay a combined $18 billion, but some plaintiffs were dissatisfied with the proposal.

According to J&J, the increased payment is the product of “continued negotiations and is intended to maximize participation,” though the settlement terms are still being finalized. The company’s press release clarified that it does not admit to liability or wrongdoing. Reuters also noted that J&J is appealing a $465 million judgment secured by the state of Oklahoma against it for its role helping create the opioid crisis. That case is currently pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.