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Aug. 1, 2021

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Washington AG rejects opioids settlement, wants trial

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OLYMPIA — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Wednesday said he has formally rejected the state’s proposed part of a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s three largest drug distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson related to the opioid addiction and overdose crisis.

Under the settlement proposal, the companies that distributed opioids would pay Washington an estimated total of $527.5 million over 18 years if all of the state’s cities and counties opt in and release any current or future claims, Ferguson said in a news release Wednesday. But if some cities opt out, the state and participating municipalities would lose up to 50% of the payment, he said.

The settlement consists of two separate agreements with opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson.

“The settlement is, to be blunt, not nearly good enough for Washington,” Ferguson said. “It stretches woefully insufficient funds into small payments over nearly 20 years, to be shared among more than 300 Washington jurisdictions.”

Ferguson also reiterated on Wednesday that jurisdictions that have gone to trial have obtained better results than the proposed settlement. Oklahoma won a $465 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson, he said, which is more than four times what Johnson & Johnson would pay Washington and all its counties and cities under the proposed settlement.

Washington state’s trial against McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen is scheduled to begin in September while its lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson is slated to start in January.

The lawsuit says the distribution companies shipped vast amounts of oxycodone, fentanyl and other painkillers into Washington and failed to comply with requirements that they identify suspicious orders that could be diverted to the illegal drug market and report them to law enforcement.

From 2006 to 2017, more than 8,000 Washington residents died of opioid overdoses, Ferguson said. During much of that time, the companies were flooding the state with more than 2 billion opioid pills, Ferguson has said.

The companies have said they have been taking steps to help address the crisis and noted that they fulfill prescription orders placed by properly licensed health care providers.

The state contends Johnson & Johnson was negligent in marketing the drugs as unlikely to cause addiction. Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc., a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary named in the lawsuit, has said its opioid marketing was “appropriate and responsible.”

Johnson & Johnson said this week that the proposed settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, and the company will continue to defend against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve.

Cardinal Health declined to comment to The Associated Press this week and the other distribution companies did not respond to requests for comment.

“We are looking forward to walking into a Washington state courtroom to hold these companies accountable for their conduct,” Ferguson said.

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