After years of suffering, the United States is racing to meet the deadline for a $26 billion opioid settlement with pharmaceutical juggernaut Johnson and Johnson. The public is frustrated with the pace of this case, and many are concerned that the amount isn't enough to remedy the damage from the opioid epidemic.
The opioid epidemic has ravaged countless communities across the United States and continues to destroy families. Since Oxycontin and other opioids entered the market, addiction and dependency issues have increased exponentially. Many doctors felt pressure to push Oxycontin in their practices or chose to do so out of financial greed.
Not all medical practitioners played a part, and those who saw addiction and overdoses in their communities began to suspect that opioids weren't what they were advertised to be. Families of the over 760,000 victims and lawmakers took a stand. An investigation revealed that Purdue Pharma and other companies were giving unethical incentives and releasing false advertising to the detriment of patients across the United States.
Now, attorneys general in several states are pushing for billions in damages from companies like Purdue and Johnson and Johnson.
Among the big names responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths around the country is Johnson & Johnson. Known for its consumer products and the one-shot COVID-19 vaccine, J&J has a reputation for being a family-run business with the public's best interests in mind.
However, their role in the opioid epidemic cannot be covered up by recent good deeds. The company maintains that they are above reproach, but the coalition of attorneys general begs to differ. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein says,
"The opioid epidemic has torn families apart and killed thousands of North Carolinians," Stein told NPR reporters that he and the others will "force these drug companies to pay a historic amount of money to bring much-needed treatment and recovery services."
While North Carolina is leading the charge on this front, West Virginia has been in the trenches for years due to the intensity of the epidemic within the state.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will not be joining in on the deal because he believes it distributes the $26 billion based on population, not actual damages.
West Virginians have been decimated by opioid addiction and overdose since the beginning of the epidemic in the 1990s. Lawmakers are understandably frustrated with previous efforts and the overall failure of the federal government to crack down on opioids.
Economic disparity, joblessness, and other struggles have plagued the state since the coal mines shut down, leaving countless people to search for a way to survive. For some, becoming a dealer was a way to make cash and provide for their families, but for others, Oxycontin and fentanyl were a way to escape.
A civil trial against Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson over their role in the crisis is wrapping up in WV, and lawmakers are hopeful that the settlement could begin to heal the community. However, they share Attorney General Morrisey's concerns that damages from the coalition's case would be a pittance because of WV's smaller population.
The opioid epidemic has been a long and bloody fight that many communities have lost. The coalition of attorneys general and their case against Johnson & Johnson could be a wake-up call for drugmakers to take more restrictive measures against false advertising and opioid distribution.
The concern from now on is that while it's important to hold these companies responsible, it's equally important to recognize the scope and severity of harm within all of the communities affected – not just big cities.
White Law PLLC will continue to stay updated on this matter.