Kansas getting $26 billion settlement slice from vaccine maker, drug companies accused in opioid crisis

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FILE – This Aug. 29, 2018, file photo shows an arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York. The three biggest U.S. drug distribution companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson are on the verge of a $26 billion settlement covering thousands of lawsuits over the toll of opioids across the U.S., two people with knowledge of the plans told The Associated Press. The settlement involving AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson is expected this week. A $1 billion-plus deal involving the three distributors and the state of New York was planned for Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

TOPEKA (KSNT) – Kansas will get a slice of a $26 billion lawsuit settlement with four companies accused of contributing to the nation’s opioid epidemic, the state’s Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced Wednesday.

Johnson & Johnson, who recently developed a one-shot COVID-19 vaccine, as well as U.S. pharmaceutical distributors Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corporation and AmerisourceBergen Corporation, will pay $26 billion in total for their part in the nation’s prescription-drug crisis, according to the attorney general. From 1999 to 2019, nearly 500,000 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone, either prescribed or illegally obtained, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

A chart shows the three waves in opioid overdose deaths tracked during the last two decades. (Courtesy Graphic/CDC)

In addition to the billion-dollar payout, J&J has agreed to stop all sales of opioids, cut funding to groups that promote opioids and will avoid all lobbying on matters related to the drugs. For the next 10 years, the three drug distributors involved will also take action on five goals:

  • Create an independent tracking group to keep watch on where and how often drugs are moving.
  • Keep a data-driven system to watch for suspicious opioid orders from the distributors’ pharmacy clients.
  • When a pharmacy shows signs of giving out precription drugs illegally, the distributors will cut its shipments and report them to state regulators.
  • All sales staff will be banned from influencing decisions related to spotting suspicious opioid orders from pharmacies.
  • The distributors will have to require senior officials to oversee efforts to prevent illegal precription drug distribution.

Schmidt said the majority of the settlement payout will go to opioid treatment and use prevention in Kansas.

“We continue to move forward in our efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies and others accountable for the destruction their business practices caused to the lives of Kansans. These settlement negotiations are extraordinarily complex. However, my objective remains simple: Get as much money as possible into the hands of state and local governments, and service providers, in Kansas to pay for addiction treatment as soon as possible, and of course, change corporate behavior to stop the practices that fueled this damage in the first place.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

With several other states involved in the lawsuit, just how much Kansas will get from the $26 billion settlement will depend on several factors:

  • The number of overdose deaths in the state
  • The number of state residents with substance use disorder
  • The number of opioids prescribed in Kansas
  • The total population of the state
  • The number of local governments in Kansas that join in on the settlement

Each state in the lawsuit has 30 days to sign an agreement on the settlement deal. After that, local governments in each state who agreed to the settlement will get 150 days to also sign on. From here, the funding Kansas gets from the settlement will be available through a grant review board for state agencies, local governments and nonprofits.

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