The three largest US drug distributors have agreed to pay up to $1.18 billion to the state of New York over their role in the opioid crisis, the state’s top prosecutor announced Tuesday.
The settlement by McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen comes as another, larger settlement between the three distributors plus pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and numerous US states and local governments is reportedly close to being reached, according to US media.
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That settlement, in the works since October 2019, could be as high as $26 billion, according to anonymous sources quoted by the New York Times.
The agreement announced Tuesday by the New York attorney general Letitia James is the largest obtained so far by the state of New York, which has been particularly aggressive in the pursuit of companies accused of having contributed to the opioid crisis.
It allows the three distributors, dominant powers in the US healthcare industry, to withdraw from an ongoing jury trial in the state over the crisis.
They had been charged with earning huge profits by pushing highly addictive prescription opioids like Oxycontin that cost local authorities billions of dollars for social services in dealing with the fallout from the epidemic.
James had already announced in late June a $230 million settlement with Johnson & Johnson, also allowing it to escape the trial.
The aggressive promotion of highly addictive painkillers from the mid-1990s onwards is seen by many as the trigger for the opioid crisis, which has killed more than half a million people in the United States.
Major laboratories — starting with Purdue, currently in bankruptcy, Johnson & Johnson, Teva, Allergan and Endo — are the subject of civil lawsuits, as well as the main American distributors, pharmacy networks and doctors.
The crisis has worsened during the pandemic, with more than 93,000 people dying from overdoses, often linked to opiates, in 2020, according to statistics published last week.