By GEOFF MULVIHILL and FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press
Native American tribes have reached opioid toll settlements totaling $590 million with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and the nation’s three largest drug distribution companies, according to a court filing made public Tuesday.
The filing in the U.S. District Court in Cleveland sets out the general terms of the settlements with Johnson & Johnson and distribution companies AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. Some details are still being worked out.
All federally recognized tribes in the United States will be able to participate in settlements, even if they have not filed opioid lawsuits. And there could be settlements between other companies in the industry and tribes, many of whom have been hit hard by the overdose crisis.
W. Ron Allen, president of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state, called it important for tribes to achieve their own settlement, unlike tobacco industry agreements in the 1990s that left aside the Native American groups.
Allen doesn’t expect his tribe of about 550 people to get much from the settlement, but it will help him in his efforts to build a healing center that will address opioid addiction, he said. .
“Every penny counts, so we’ll take it and run with it,” he said.
A study cited in the settlement found that Native Americans had the highest per capita opioid overdose rate of any population group in 2015.
“The dollars that will go to tribes through this initial settlement will help fund crucial, reservation-based, culturally appropriate opioid treatment services,” Douglas Yankton, president of the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota, said in a statement. a statement.
More than 400 tribes and intertribal organizations representing approximately 80% of tribal citizens have filed opioid lawsuits.
Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey — whose opioids included Duragesic and Nucynta but which has stopped selling opioids — said in a statement Tuesday that the settlement was not an admission of liability or liability. wrongdoing.
AmerisourceBergen, based in Conshohocken, Pa., said in a statement that the agreement will accelerate helping communities and allow the company to focus on the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Cardinal, based in Columbus, Ohio, and McKesson, based in Irving, Texas, declined to comment.
As part of the deal, Johnson & Johnson would pay $150 million over two years. AmerisourceBergen McKesson and Cardinal would bring in a total of $440 million over seven years.
Each of the 574 federally recognized tribes could decide whether or not to participate, but would be required to use the money to address the opioid epidemic.
The agreement would go into effect when 95% of tribes with lawsuits against the companies agree to the settlement, said Tara Sutton, an attorney whose firm represents 28 tribes.
Settlements are also underway between the tribes and other companies involved in opioids, Sutton said.
The newly announced deals are separate from the $75 million ones the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the three distribution companies reached last year before a lawsuit.
The same four companies are nearing the final stages of approving settlements worth $26 billion with state and local governments across the United States. They have until the end of the month to decide whether enough government entities have signed on to pursue the deal.
The money for the tribes will come from the larger colonies.
Tribal settlements are part of an estimated $40 billion in settlements, penalties and fines incurred by companies over the years due to their role in opioids.
Drugs, including prescription drugs such as OxyContin and illicit drugs such as heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl, have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the United States over the past two decades.
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Fonseca from Flagstaff, Arizona.
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