Feb 2, 2022 - Health

Drug distributors reach major opioid settlement with Native American tribes

An entry sign to the Johnson & Johnson campus shows their logo in Irvine, California on August 28, 2019
Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson and the country's three major drug distributors agreed Tuesday to pay $590 million to Native American tribes affected by the opioid crisis, according to a proposed settlement.

Why it matters: It's the largest opioid settlement for Native Americans, the Washington Post notes.

  • "American Indians have suffered the highest per capita rate of opioid overdose and are more likely than other group in the United States to die from drug-induced deaths," said Douglas Yankton, chair of the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota, in a statement, per AP.
  • "The dollars that will flow to Tribes under this initial settlement will help fund crucial, on-reservation, culturally appropriate opioid treatment services," Yankton added.

The big picture: More than 400 tribes sued the companies, alleging that they helped fuel abuse of the addictive painkillers, Bloomberg reports.

By the numbers: In Tuesday's settlement, distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen have agreed to pay $440 million over seven years to tribes that have been disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis.

  • Johnson & Johnson will pay $150 million over two years, according to the settlement.
  • The agreement is in addition to the $75 million settlement AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson reached with the Cherokee Nation last year to resolve a lawsuit alleging the companies contributed to an opioid crisis in the tribe's territory.

What they're saying: Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that the proposed agreement "is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing and the Company will continue to defend against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve," but added that the settlement was "appropriate and responsible."

  • J&J noted it no longer sold prescription opioids in the U.S.
  • AmerisourceBergen said the settlement "will both expedite the flow of resources to communities impacted by the crisis while enabling AmerisourceBergen to focus on ensuring the pharmaceutical supply chain is meeting the needs of health care providers and patients," according to AP.
  • The other distributors could not immediately be reached for comment.
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