Johnson & Johnson Agrees to Settle Ohio Opioid Lawsuits

StockMarketNews.TodayJohnson & Johnson on Tuesday said it has agreed to a $20.4 million deal to avoid a coming trial accusing the company of helping spark an opioid-addiction crisis in two Ohio counties.

The settlement makes J&J the fourth drugmaker to reach such a deal ahead of the trial, slated to begin later this month in federal court in Cleveland. The trial is considered a bellwether for thousands of opioid-related lawsuits that municipalities and states have filed against drugmakers.

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The company said Tuesday the settlement allows it “to avoid the resource demands and uncertainty of a trial as it continues to seek meaningful progress in addressing the nation’s opioid crisis.”

Yet the deal, which includes no admission of liability, still leaves J&J facing hundreds of other opioid lawsuits. The two Ohio counties behind the lawsuit, Cuyahoga and Summit, are home to cities including Cleveland and Akron that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis.

As in thousands of other opioid-related lawsuits filed by local and state municipalities, the counties accused J&J and other companies of contributing to widespread addiction through aggressive marketing practices and lax distribution policies.

J&J said Tuesday the company is “open to identifying an appropriate, comprehensive resolution of the overall opioid litigation” but is also prepared to defend its marketing and other actions.

Lawyers for the two counties said the settlement provides urgently needed funds for programs like those to treat babies born to opioid-addicted mothers. The lawyers said they are continuing to prepare for trial “to hold the remaining opioid makers and distributors accountable for fueling the crisis that has led to thousands of deaths in Ohio and across the country.”

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Earlier this week, drugmaker Mallinckrodt PLC completed a $30 million deal with Cuyahoga and Summit counties. Endo International PLC had previously agreed to pay the counties $10 million, while Allergan PLC had agreed to pay $5 million to avoid the trial.

J&J’s settlement includes a $10 million cash payment, a $5 million reimbursement of legal expenses the counties incurred in relation to the trial, and $5.4 million in charitable contributions to opioid-related nonprofits in the counties.

The company is among drugmakers exploring a way to use the bankruptcy of another defendant in the opioid cases, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, to try to reach a global resolution of the cases, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

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The litigation has weighed on J&J, of New Brunswick, N.J. The company lost the first opioid case to go to trial, in Oklahoma. A state-court judge there ordered the pharmaceutical and consumer products company to pay $572 million for contributing to the state’s opioid crisis. The company is appealing the verdict.

As settlements by drugmakers pile up, the Ohio trial is now shaping up to focus mostly on the companies that distribute drugs. Companies still included in the case as of Tuesday include AmerisourceBergen Corp., McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.

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Those companies have denied the allegations against them and argued they ran legal businesses that were heavily regulated.

J&J’s involvement in the lawsuits stems primarily from two opioid painkillers: the fentanyl patch Duragesic and Nucynta, a tapentadol pill. J&J also owned two companies that supplied the active pharmaceutical ingredients and narcotic raw materials to other drugmakers for their own opioid painkillers.

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J&J still makes Duragesic but sold Nucynta in 2015 and exited the opioid-ingredients businesses by 2016.



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