The attorneys general in Tennessee and North Carolina have reached a settlement with drug companies that could be one of the largest payouts for opioid litigation. Now, their task is to convince 4,000 cities, counties and states to drop their pending litigation and sign on.
“We want all states and local governments to sign on,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a statement. “That way we can hold these companies accountable (as they should be), get immediate funds to programs that will reduce the crisis and save lives, and do so now, as opposed to years of litigation and the costs that go with it.”
The $26 billion settlement is with Johnson & Johnson and the country’s three largest drug distribution companies. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas have also signed on, which means they agree to stop other lawsuits.
Other states have 30 days to join. And local governments have 150 days to sign on.
“If we can hit the benchmarks and get the threshold number of states and subdivisions on board, we could have first payments by the end of the year,” Slatery said as part of the announcement with a bi-partisan group of state AGs.
In Tennessee, Slatery says a council would be named to decide how to distribute the state’s share of the money. It’s meant to pay for drug treatment and other issues caused by the opioid epidemic.
Even while COVID claimed thousands of lives in Tennessee last year, drug overdose deaths set a new record.
The agreement forces Johnson & Johnson to pay $5 billion, stop selling opioids for 10 years and halt lobbying on issues related to opioids. Distributors Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen would have to collectively pay $21 billion, make their shipping process more transparent to regulators and report all suspicious activity.
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately compared the number of COVID and overdose deaths in Tennessee in 2020. More people died of COVID than drug overdoses.