Johnson & Johnson will pay $20.4 million to settle lawsuits brought by two Ohio counties that accused the pharma giant of contributing to a crisis of opioid addiction and overdoses.By settling, J&J avoids a federal trial that’s set to begin later this month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Per the deal, announced Wednesday, the drugmaker will pay $10 million combined to Cuyahoga and Summit counties, and will cover $5 million of the counties’ legal costs. Another $5.4 million will go toward opioid-related programs run by non-profits in the two counties.J&J is the fourth drugmaker to reach a settlement with Cuyahoga and Summit, which encompass Cleveland and Akron. Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Endo International and Allergan have also agreed to deals ahead of the forthcoming trial, which is being closely watched as an indicator of how legal claims against opioid drugmakers might proceed.
J&J’s settlement with Cuyahoga and Summit counties comes a little more than a month after the drugmaker lost a court case in Oklahoma. In that trial, state court judge Thad Balkman ordered J&J to pay $572 million in damages, a ruling the company is now appealing.
With a deal now in place with the two Ohio counties, J&J will be removed from the bellwether Ohio trial, as have Mallinckrodt, Endo and Allergan. Drugmakers Purdue Pharma, Teva, and Insys Therapeutics are also named in the two respective lawsuits, as are drug distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen.
Across all four settlement deals reached to date, Cuyahoga and Summit have won a combined $65 million from companies that produced and sold opioid products.
J&J’s alleged role in the opioid crisis involves two drugs it sold, Duragesic (fentanyl) and Nucynta (tapentadol), as well as its business supplying active pharmaceutical ingredient through subsidiaries Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids.
The company maintains that it “acted responsibly with its products,” and argues the two drugs have accounted for less than 1% of total opioid prescriptions in the U.S. It sold marketing rights to Nucynta in 2015 and says it has not actively marketed Duragesic since 2008.
A settlement allows J&J to “avoid the resource demands and uncertainty of a trial,” the company said in a Wednesday statement. It did not admit liability as part of the agreement with Cuyahoga and Summit.
Opioid drugmakers, including J&J, are looking for ways to comprehensively settle the thousands of claims they face from states, counties and cities across the U.S. Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported some are exploring whether they could participate in Purdue Pharma’s planned bankruptcy, contributing to a trust set up through that process in return for being released from liability.