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Drugmaker says price tag to settle thousands of opioid lawsuits could total $21B

Drugmaker says price tag to settle thousands of opioid lawsuits could total $21B
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Drug distributor McKesson said Tuesday that it and other pharmaceutical companies could have to pay up to $21 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits related to the opioid crisis. 

In a new quarterly report, McKesson said that it would pay about $8 billion of the $21 billion total settlement over the next 18 years. This marks an increase from the $6.68 billion McKesson was initially set to pay when the settlement framework was first proposed last year. 

In October 2019, McKesson, along with AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, proposed a combined $18 billion settlement to resolve approximately 3,200 lawsuits, with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson paying an additional $4 billion. Due to pushback from local governments and states, Johnson & Johnson agreed last month to pay $5 billion. 

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In 2019, four attorneys general announced a framework for a $48 billion settlement with the corporations, along with pharmaceutical company Teva, that  would include $22 billion in cash and $26 billion worth of a generic opioid addiction treatment, product distribution and data tracking measures.

According to Reuters, McKesson said Tuesday that it “has not reached a point where settlement is probable,” adding that negotiations are still ongoing. 

“Communities are desperately in need of the relief this deal would provide,” Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, told Reuters. 

The lawsuits accuse drugmakers of deceptively marketing opioids and accuse distributors of ignoring warnings that prescription painkillers were being diverted for inappropriate use. 

Purdue Pharma agreed last month to plead guilty to three federal charges as part of a larger $8 billion settlement arrangement. The maker of the powerful opioid OxyContin filed for bankruptcy last year.

The Purdue deal included the largest penalties ever levied against a pharmaceutical manufacturer, including a criminal fine of $3.55 billion and an additional $2 billion in criminal forfeiture. 

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The Justice Department said at the time Purdue would pay just $225 million of the forfeiture amount on the day of effective bankruptcy. The rest would be given to the municipalities, states and tribes that also had lawsuits against Purdue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 450,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2018, with 67,367 recorded in 2018 alone. 

The CDC reported that opioids were involved in 46,802 overdose deaths in 2018, or 69.5 percent of all overdose deaths that year. Two out of three, 67 percent, of opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2018 involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.