Executive Summary of National Opioid Settlements

[Subject to ongoing corrections and updates]

After agreements were finalized with the three pharmaceutical distributors, the National Opioid litigation moved into a new phase including cases against pharmacy chains. In early November 2022, agreements-in-principle were announced with three pharmacy chains – CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. The PEC is continuing to work with these defendants and attorney general working groups across the country to finalize the details of these agreements, including determining the allocation of the funds to states and municipalities. Dependent on participation by states and municipalities, the agreement-in-principles are as follows:

  • CVS to pay up to $4.90 billion over 10 years;
  • Walgreens to pay up to $5.52 billion over 15 years; and
  • Walmart to pay up to $2.74 billion in 2023, and all payments to be made within 6 years.

These agreements need to be finalized, as they follow a similar procedure as the distributor settlements (I.e., an “opt-in” agreement with states and local governments). Participation levels also affect how much money settling parties will receive; put simply, the greater the level of participation, the more funds will ultimately be paid out for abatement. More information will become available over the coming months.

Previous Information

Nationwide settlements have been reached to resolve all Opioids litigation brought by states and local political subdivisions against the three largest pharmaceutical distributors: McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen (“Distributors”), and manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its parent company Johnson & Johnson (collectively, “J&J”). These settlements will provide substantial funds to states and subdivisions for abatement of the Opioids epidemic across the country and will impose transformative changes in the way the settling defendants conduct their business.

If the proposed settlements are fully adopted by states and subdivisions nationwide:

  • The Distributors will pay a maximum of $21 billion over 18 years, while J&J will pay a maximum of $5 billion over no more than nine years, with approximately $22.8 billion in settlement proceeds payable to state and local subdivisions.[1] .  Of the funds going directly to participating states and subdivisions, at least 85% must be used for abatement of the Opioid Epidemic, with the overwhelming bulk of the proceeds restricted to funding future abatement efforts by state and local governments.
  • The Distributors will make an initial deposit of funds into escrow by the end of September 2021, with additional deposits by J&J and the Distributors in early Summer of 2022.
  • Funds can begin to flow to states and local governments as early as April 2022, depending on when a settling State meets certain requirements. The J&J agreement also offers opportunities for significant acceleration of payments if states and subdivisions meet specified participation levels.
  • The settlements will allow for a broad range of approved abatement uses by state and local governments. Developed in consultation with the nation’s leading public health experts, the list of pre-approved uses includes a wide range of intervention, treatment, education, and recovery services so that state and local governments can decide what will best serve their communities.  It is anticipated that entire communities will benefit from the effects of the opioid-remediation efforts funded by the settlements and the injunctive relief the settlements provide.
  • In addition to billions of dollars for abatement, the agreements also provide for injunctive relief that requires important changes to the Distributors’ and J&J’s conduct to better protect our nation’s health and welfare. This reform package includes the creation of a groundbreaking clearinghouse through which the Distributors will be required to account not only for their own shipments, but also the shipments of the other distributors, in order to detect, stop, and report suspicious Opioids orders.  In addition, J&J (which ceased marketing Opioids in 2015 and ceased selling Opioids in 2020) will not market or sell any Opioid products in the next ten years and has agreed to cease lobbying concerning prescription opioids for ten years.  J&J also has agreed to make the clinical trial data for its discontinued Opioids available for medical research.
  • Less than 10% of the settlement proceeds will be earmarked to compensate private lawyers who have been prosecuting Opioids cases on behalf of state and local governments for several years and have incurred substantial out of pocket costs. Compensation will occur through an application procedure overseen by court-appointed arbiters.  An additional sum is provided to settling States that did not hire outside counsel, to use towards furthering the abatement goal and to defray their investigation and litigation costs.

These are not class action “opt out” settlements. Instead, these settlements require that a critical mass of both state and local governments “opt in” over the next six months. The extent of this participation will determine whether the settlement agreements take effect. The Distributors and J&J on the one hand, and the states and subdivisions on the other, each have options to walk away if they are not satisfied with levels of participation.  Participation levels also affect how much money settling parties will receive because about half of the abatement funds are in the form of “incentive payments” and certain other settlement provisions also provide incentives for higher levels of participation.  Put simply, the greater the level of participation, the more funds will ultimately be paid out for abatement.

The Tribes, the Distributors, and J&J are also working toward resolution of Tribal Opioids claims through mediations under the auspices of the MDL court.

The agreements with the Distributors and J&J are the culmination of almost three years of intense negotiations among representatives of the State Attorneys General, the court-appointed Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee and Negotiation Committee comprised of lawyers in the National Prescription Opiate MDL who represent subdivisions, and counsel to the Distributors and J&J, facilitated by Judge Dan Polster (who oversees the federal MDL litigation) and by the Special Masters appointed by the MDL Court.

The agreements, if adopted, will not settle or release any claims brought by private parties, including private individuals, private hospitals, or private third-party payers.

[1]  West Virginia previously settled with the Distributors in an unrelated settlement.  A portion of the Distributors’ settlement funds ($491 million) is treated as a credit toward potential settlements with West Virginia subdivisions and with Tribes.  For J&J’s agreement, a portion of the settlement funds ($270 million) is treated as a credit for Oklahoma (which obtained a trial verdict against J&J), the Tribes, and other litigation cost for non-participating entities.