CONCORD, New Hampshire (AP) — Drug maker Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $40.5 million in a settlement with New Hampshire over its role in the opioid addiction crisis days before the case was set for trial, the state attorney general said Thursday.
The state filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary in 2018, alleging that they aggressively marketed their opioids to doctors and patients in New Hampshire and misrepresented that their opioids were safer than other alternatives.
The lawsuit also alleged that Johnson & Johnson made misleading statements about opioids; it is misrepresented that his opioids were rarely addictive in chronic pain; and target vulnerable populations such as the elderly.
“This resolution represents a positive step forward in ensuring that these disruptive business practices are not repeated and that resources are allocated to help stem the tide of the opioid crisis,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement.
Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., denied the state’s claims, saying they were honestly selling prescription opioids that did not cause the harms claimed by the state.
“This settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing and marks continued progress in resolving claims and litigation related to opioids, states, cities, counties and other entities in the United States,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement. “The company will continue to defend itself against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve.”
New Hampshire was one of the few states that did not join the company’s national settlement in February because the opioid crisis was “particularly severe” and because the state had already devoted “substantial litigation resources” to preparing for the trial, the Attorney General’s Office said. says in a press release.
The terms of the national settlement were also less favorable to the state, which would have amounted to about $26.5 million paid out over nine years.
Under the settlement announced Thursday, Johnson & Johnson will make a single payment. The state will receive $31.5 million after payment of legal costs and fees. All the money goes to programs to fight opioids, including a special state trust fund that provides grants to help with treatment and recovery from opioid use. Some of the money is also going directly to counties, cities and towns that have filed suits.
Earlier this year, the state of New Hampshire joined a settlement with three pharmaceutical distributors accused of fueling the opioid epidemic: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. New Hampshire’s share was approximately $115 million, payable over 18 years.
Opioids, including both prescription and illicit drugs such as heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the US since 2000, with cases reaching record levels in 2020.
New Hampshire was one of the hardest hit states. Almost 500 people died of overdoses in 2016, almost ten times more than in 2000, prompting the deputy administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to call the state the “ground zero” of the crisis.
In 2019, the state spent millions of federal funds to create a star model called “The Doorway,” in which hospitals and other agencies work with local service providers so that care can be delivered in less than an hour anywhere in the state. This has helped keep the state’s overdose death rate stable, but it remains higher than the national average.
“We don’t see any decrease in overdoses,” Deputy Attorney General James Boffetti said in a recent interview.
In addition to New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Washington, and West Virginia did not join the national settlement with Johnson & Johnson and sought their own deals or sued. West Virginia, which has long led the nation in per capita drug overdose deaths, agreed to a $99 million settlement in April.
In recent years, drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies have settled over $40 billion in opioid claims with state, local, and tribal governments and others. Most of the money should be used to overcome the addiction crisis.
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