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Washington Settles with the Nation’s Largest Opioid Distributors

— May 6, 2022

Washington’s AG announces a proposed deal with McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health.

Washington has reached a settlement with the nation’s largest opioid distributors, McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health.  As part of the deal, the state will dish out $476 million of $518 million to address the opioid crisis.  The funds will go towards providing addiction treatment services to its residents, expanding access to overdose reversal drugs, and providing housing and job placement to those who need it.

Washington’s Attorney General (AG) Bob Ferguson (Democrat) announced the deal, citing that it represents “tens of millions of dollars more” than what the state would have received from the companies if it had signed onto a national settlement reached last summer involving the distributors and Johnson & Johnson (J&J).

The agreement still requires approval from the judge and cities that have independently brought to court their own cases against the distributors. Forty-six states so previously signed onto the nationwide settlement reached in Ohio, which includes a payout of $20 billion over 18 years.

Washington Settles with the Nation's Largest Opioid Distributors
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“We could have joined the overwhelming majority of states and settled with the the largest opioid distributors, but we chose to fight them in court instead,” Ferguson said. “That decision to take them to court will result in significant additional resources for Washington to combat the opioid epidemic.”

In the distributor suit, Ferguson said the three companies “shipped such a vast amount of drugs to Washington that it was obvious they were fueling addiction: Opioid sales in the state rose more than 500% between 1997 and 2011. In 2011, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed in the state (enough for a 16-day supply for every resident). In 2015, eight of Washington’s 39 counties had more prescriptions than residents.”

The companies fired back that they had supplied opioids that had been prescribed by doctors.  Thus, they shifted the blame to physicians and said it “wasn’t their role to second-guess the prescriptions or interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.”  Furthermore, the companies argued, “Washington state itself played a large role in the epidemic.  In the 1990s, concerned that people in chronic pain were being undertreated, lawmakers passed the Intractable Pain Act, which made it easier to prescribe opioids.”

The case ultimately went to trial last November in King County Superior Court in Seattle, alleging “violations of consumer protection and public nuisance laws,” while the lawsuit against J&J will go to trial this fall. Similar trials are currently underway in West Virginia, Florida and California.

Mostly recently, in a written statement the distributors seemed to have succumb to the court’s decision, saying, the settlement “will further the companies’ goal of achieving broad resolution of governmental opioid claims while delivering meaningful relief to communities across the United States that have been impacted by the opioid epidemic.”

In the past twenty years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 500,000 American citizens lost their lives to overdoses of opioids.  The reported death toll the crisis has caused includes both street drugs and pain pills that have been prescribed by doctors.


Opioid distributors reach $518 mln settlement with Washington state

Washington reaches big settlement with opioid distributors

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