Johnson & Johnson will pay the state of New York more than $230 million in a settlement that also ensures that the company will permanently get out of the opioid business in the United States, the state attorney general’s office announced Saturday.
The settlement comes at a time when the opioid industry is facing over 3,000 lawsuits across the nation for its contribution to an epidemic of prescription and street opioid abuse that has killed more than 800,000 Americans in the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And it came just days before opening arguments in a sweeping New York trial in which the company was to be a defendant. That trial will be the first of its kind to go before a jury, and the first targeting the entire opioid supply chain, from the drugmakers who manufactured the pills to the distributors that supplied them, and a pharmacy chain that filled prescriptions for them.
“The opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc on countless communities across New York state and the rest of the nation, leaving millions still addicted to dangerous and deadly opioids,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Johnson & Johnson helped fuel this fire, but today they’re committing to leaving the opioid business — not only in New York, but across the entire country.”
Johnson & Johnson, parent company of Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos., which was set to be one of the defendants in the New York trial, will also pay an additional $33 million as reimbursement for New York’s attorney fees and costs. The company will make payments over nine years. With the settlement, the company is no longer part of the New York trial.
The money is not intended to compensate people harmed by the opioid crisis, but rather for what is known as abatement, mitigating the harm, and preventing future crises, such as education and addiction treatment.
In a statement, the company said that the settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, and that “the company’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible.”
The drugs that Janssen developed included a fentanyl patch and a tablet that was crush-resistant, marketed under names such as Duragesic and Nucynta, which, according to Johnson & Johnson, accounted for less than 1% of total opioid prescriptions in the United States.
In 2015, Janssen ceased marketing its opioid medications. Last year, it discontinued its prescription pain medications in the United States. Johnson & Johnson and its related divisions remain defendants in other opioid lawsuits around the country.
The sprawling opioid case about to begin in New York was brought jointly by the attorney general and Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. In August 2019, a judge in Oklahoma ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $465 million, after it was found responsible for the public nuisance wrought by the epidemic of opioid addiction in that state.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.