A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general announced on Wednesday a $26 billion national settlement with four American corporations that made and distributed opioid painkillers even as addiction and overdose deaths skyrocketed.
"The opioid epidemic has torn families apart and killed thousands of North Carolinians," said North Carolina state Attorney General Josh Stein, one of the lead negotiators.
Stein said the deal will "force these drug companies to pay a historic amount of money to bring much-needed treatment and recovery services" to North Carolina and other states that sign on to the settlement.
States will now have 30 days to decide whether to embrace the deal. Local governments will have 150 days to sign on.
The ultimate amount of payouts by the companies will hinge on how many governments agree to suspend their opioid lawsuits.
The three drug distributors will spread their $21 billion payments over 18 years. Johnson & Johnson will contribute $5 billion over a 9-year span.
In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said the settlement "will directly support state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis."
J&J once again denied any wrongdoing in its manufacture and marketing of opioids, describing its actions as "appropriate and responsible."
However, as part of this agreement J&J agreed to no longer manufacture opioid medications.
The company voluntarily halted sales of prescription opioids last year.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, state attorneys general noted the devastating loss of life in the U.S. since the pharmaceutical industry began aggressively marketing opioid pain pills in the late 1990s.
Overdose deaths hit a new record of 93,000 in 2020, driven largely by the rise of fatalities linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
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