The Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, announced on Wednesday a landmark settlement of $149.5 million with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. This settlement comes after more than four years of legal action by the state against the company for its role in the devastating opioid addiction crisis.
Ferguson emphasized the company's awareness of the harm caused by their products, stating, "They knew what the harm was. They did it anyway." His remarks underscore the gravity of Johnson & Johnson's actions and the need for accountability.
The settlement agreement includes provisions for the allocation of funds to combat the opioid crisis. A significant portion, amounting to $123.3 million, will be used for essential initiatives such as substance abuse treatment, expanded access to overdose-reversal drugs, and services supporting pregnant women dealing with substance dependency. The remaining funds will be utilized to cover litigation costs.
It is crucial to note the alarming increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years. According to the Washington State Department of Health, there has been a staggering rise in deaths, with 2,048 reported in 2022 alone, more than double the number from 2019.
Attorney General Ferguson acknowledges that the lasting impact of the opioid crisis will now be left for policymakers and affected families to grapple with. The consequences of addiction are tragic and far-reaching, and addressing them requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach.
Pending approval from a judge, this settlement will allocate over $20 million more towards combating the opioid crisis compared to the previous national settlement involving Johnson & Johnson in 2021. This demonstrates Washington State's commitment to prioritizing the welfare of its citizens and seeking appropriate compensation for the harm caused.
Over the past two decades, numerous drug manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacy chains, and consultants have collectively paid over $50 billion to state and local governments to settle claims related to the opioid crisis. These agreements aim to provide financial resources to combat addiction and support overdose prevention efforts nationwide.
The opioid epidemic has resulted in over 1 million deaths in the United States from 1999 to 2021, with opioids playing a significant role in the majority of cases. Initially centered around prescription painkillers in the 1990s, the crisis has since evolved, with heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl contributing to a surge in fatalities. Addressing this public health crisis requires ongoing efforts and collaborations at various levels.
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Johnson & Johnson Faces Lawsuit Over Opioid Crisis
Washington state’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson in 2020, claiming that the company played a significant role in fueling the expansion of prescription opioids. The lawsuit alleges that Johnson & Johnson deceived doctors and the public by downplaying the risks of opioids for chronic pain and addiction.
The attorney general’s office revealed that in 2015, Johnson & Johnson was the top supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients used in opioid drugs across the country. However, Johnson & Johnson stated in a recent statement that their fentanyl patch, Duragesic, and their Nucynta opioid accounted for less than 1% of opioid prescriptions in both Washington state and the entire United States. The company also clarified that it has not sold prescription opioids in the country for several years.
Johnson & Johnson defended its actions related to the marketing and promotion of prescription opioids, asserting that they were appropriate and responsible. However, this assertion has been challenged by the attorney general.
Democratic Senator June Robinson shared her personal experience with addiction, expressing her sorrow for losing friends and witnessing others lose their children to the crisis. While acknowledging that lawsuits cannot bring back lost lives, she emphasized that the allocated resources will help communities and the state invest in recovery efforts and hopefully prevent future addictions and crises.
This settlement comes two years after the three largest opioid distributors in the country agreed to pay Washington state $518 million, with a significant portion of the funds dedicated to combating the addiction epidemic.