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The Effects of the Landmark $26 Billion National Settlement With Opioid Distributors

Learn the most important aspects of the settlement and what it means for the opioid crisis moving forward. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. federal government worked out a settlement with four major prescription drug distributors for a staggering 3,000+ lawsuits filed by local municipalities and states. That long awaited outcome was finalized in October, amounting to a $26 billion payout. 

The distributors were sued over their role in fueling the opioid epidemic that has taken the lives of over 500,000 Americans since 2000. It was a landmark decision, but what does it really mean for people who need addiction treatment in Dallas and around the country? 

What Pharmaceutical Distributors Are Involved in the Settlement

The landmark national opioid settlement with distributors actually isn’t that far reaching. It only involves the three top distributors and one drugmaker. The companies that have agreed to collectively pay $26 billion in damages include:

  • McKesson Corp 
  • Cardinal Health Inc 
  • AmerisourceBergen Corp
  • Johnson & Johnson

The first three distributors will pay a combined $21 billion and Johnson & Johnson will contribute the remaining $5 billion. 

What Settlement Means for Both Sides

Even though the settlement has made headlines for months, when it’s finalized that’s not the end of the lawsuits. For starters, a settlement means that the company can’t be sued again – but only in the 42 states that accepted the settlement. The other eight states could still pursue legal action.

While it is a major financial penalty and doesn’t completely end the matter, the distributors have put a large part of their legal woes behind them. But unfortunately, those addicted to opioids and family members of those who have died didn’t get the satisfaction of the companies taking responsibility. Admitting fault wasn’t part of the agreement. The companies involved explicitly stated that settling was in no way admitting fault or liability. 

The outcome actually has a much bigger impact on other companies related to the manufacturing and distribution of opioids, which is discussed in more detail below. 

As for people who are addicted to opioids and the communities where they reside, the settlement won’t have such a huge effect. It’s simply not enough money to address the opioid crisis. However, it does set precedence for future cases that puts state and local municipalities in a better negotiating position. The hope is that more settlements like this one will ease the burden of battling the opioid epidemic. 

If nothing else, holding these companies accountable has stifled the flow of prescription narcotics and brought about awareness that is helping reduce the risk of addiction. Most states and local municipalities that are involved with the settlement have stated the funds they’ll receive will go primarily to educational programs and drug treatment. 

Long-Term Outlook in the Fight Against Opioid Addiction

Anyone who has been addicted or close to someone with an addiction knows it’s not a disease that can be cured quickly with surgery or medication. It’s a chronic disease that requires constant care. Relapses can occur, and a patient that was doing fine for a while may find they once again need more support and treatment.

It brings up the question of funding for more intensive outpatient therapy and sober living homes as well as the general outlook long-term. What is the probability that facilities like our intensive outpatient program in Dallas, TX will get assistance so that more people can be helped throughout the long recovery?

The $26 billion settlement with distributors is a lot of money to be sure, however it won’t be nearly enough to cover the long-term costs of the opioid epidemic. It doesn’t even come close to covering the cost of one year. The CDC estimates that in 2017 alone the opioid crisis cost the U.S. over $1 trillion

And we will continue to feel the effects of the opioid epidemic for generations. In addition to the thousands of people that have become addicted to opioids, there are now many children who are born with opioid addiction. 

While the distributors involved in the settlement can no longer be sued throughout most of the U.S., there are other major players that the government will turn their attention to next. 

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What’s Next in the Legal Battles Against Opioid Drugmakers

The lawsuits and trials are far from over. We will likely see cases play out in court for years even as more companies settle. 

A trial in Ohio just began that will examine the role of pharmacy operators in the opioid crisis and whether they should be held accountable for lax controls. The pharmacies, which include CVS, Walgreens and Wal-Mart, are being accused of ignoring signs that the prescription medications were funneling into the hands of illegal distributors.

The pharmacy operators are pushing back and arguing that they followed federal guidelines, including the use of government-approved labels for the prescription bottles notating the risks. Their defense teams are also pointing out that it was doctors who wrote the prescription, and they were merely filling legal prescriptions.

Although the pharmacies have a strong defense, the fact that the distributors settled could mean there are more settlements to come. For some of the companies, such as Wal-Mart, the negative press may be enough for them to quietly settle and avoid a public trial. 

The pharmacies were already unsuccessful at getting the current case dismissed, which increases the likelihood they’ll be open to settling. But then again, pharmacies have shown little willingness to settle at this point. So far only Rite-Aid chose to settle in the case for an undisclosed amount.

Of course, the current case is just one of more than 3,300 filed against major pharmacy chains so a lot is at stake. 

Attorneys for the states that are currently pursuing legal action against drugmakers and pharmacies believe that with every settlement, there’s more pressure for additional companies to do the same.

So while things may be largely settled for McKesson, Johnson & Johnson, Cardinal Health Inc, AmerisourceBergen Corp that’s not the case for all of the other corporations that played a role in making and distributing opioid prescription medications. 

A settlement with Purdue Pharma, the now bankrupt maker of OxyContin, is one of the few drugmakers that is currently in the process of finalizing a settlement. The company is expected to pay $10 billion over a period of time as part of its bankruptcy terms. Bankrupt drugmaker Mallinckrodt is also discussing a settlement that will likely be over $1.5 billion. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with prescription opioid addiction every day counts. Lighthouse Recovery offers addiction treatment in Dallas, TX that’s available to people from all around the country. Whether you’re a former athlete who suffered an injury, a mother who had a c-section or struggling with mental health issues, there are supportive experts who understand what you are going through and can help you put your life back on track. 

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