Drug Distributors Reach $1.1B Deal in New York Opioid Trial

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Tuesday that the three largest U.S. drug distributors have agreed to pay up to $1.18 billion to settle claims by the state and two of its biggest counties over their role in the nationwide opioid crisis.

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The joint settlement between McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen comes three weeks into the first jury trial as other state attorneys general prepare to announce a landmark $26 billion deal with distributor and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, resolving countless nationwide cases.

“While no amount of money will ever compensate for the millions of addictions, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, or the countless communities decimated by opioids, this money will be vital in preventing any future devastation,” James said.

In a joint statement, the distributors said they “strongly dispute the allegations at issue in the trial.” They added that the deal will allocate “meaningful relief to affected communities” while allowing the companies to “focus their attention and resources on the safe and secure delivery of medications and therapies.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2019 almost 500,000 people have lost their life from opioid overdoses in the United States. Provisional data from 2020 shows that the crisis may have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers shows 2020 as a record year for drug overdose deaths with 93,331, up 29% from the previous year. Opioids were involved in 74.7%, or 69,710, of those fatalities.

Presiding judge, Justice Jerry Garguilo, granted a request by lawyers for the state and counties to release the distributors from the case, without discussing the terms of the deal.

However, the New York trial will continue against three more drugmakers accused of deceptively marketing their painkillers – Endo International, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and AbbVie Inc’s Allergan unit.

AG James’ office stated that more than $1 billion of the settlement money will go toward addressing the epidemic, with payments starting in two months and continuing over the next 17 years. Nassau and Suffolk counties, both of Long Island, have said the money will be used for mental health and addiction programs.

Two separate opioid cases are also on trial in West Virginia and California. Those trials will be decided by judges rather than juries, with closing arguments in the WV case expected in the coming week.

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