"Big Three" opioid distributors, J&J advance $26 billion settlements to bring relief to thousands of communities

After a month-long review of nationwide participation, opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and the U.S.’s three largest opioid distributors- AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson- agreed today to move forward with combined $26 billion settlements.

The decision brings relief closer than ever for thousands of communities across the country that are on the front lines of a deadly epidemic of opioid addiction. Some of the nation’s hardest hit communities could begin receiving critical funding as soon as this summer now that the settlements are entering the final stages of approval. The companies have also agreed to implement significant internal policy and conduct changes to help mitigate the risk of future harm with hopes of preventing a similar public health crisis of this magnitude from ever happening again.    

  • In all, more than 20,000 communities, including states, counties, cities, towns, and other local entities agreed to sign on to the settlements, accounting for roughly 90% of the total U.S. population.
  • Settlement terms stipulate that 85% of the funds will go directly to impacted communities to support treatment, education, intervention, screening, recovery and prevention efforts that are needed to curb the crisis.
  • The “Big Three” have agreed to pay the full settlement amount over the course of 18 years, while payments from J&J will be allocated over a span of seven years.

Motley Rice LLC co-founder Joe Rice led negotiations for the settling subdivisions through his role as co-lead counsel and a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee for the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, which is consolidated multidistrict litigation (MDL) that includes more than 3,200 litigating municipalities. Other members of the negotiating committee include: Paul Geller of Robbins Geller, Peter Mougey of Levin Papantonio, Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser, and Chris Seeger and Jennifer Scullion of Seeger Weiss. Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy and Paul T. Farrell Jr. of Farrell & Fuller Law LLC are co-lead counsel along with Rice for the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee. 

“I am incredibly proud of the work that went into producing this outcome for our public clients across the country and countless others who need help recovering from unprecedented hardships caused by the pumping of highly addictive opioid drugs onto Main Street USA,” said Motley Rice co-founder and co-lead counsel Joe Rice. “As monumental as this accomplishment is, it is only the beginning. More work needs to be done to resolve litigation against numerous other defendants that also played a role in this epidemic, and to bring about resolutions for communities that chose not to participate in these agreements with J&J, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. While no amount of money can undo the damage already done, I am encouraged by the overwhelming amount of participation displayed here. A health crisis of this magnitude requires massive cooperation and coordination to address. I and the other lawyers on the MDL PEC have been part of the solution by bringing the settlements to the clients for consideration. Now the public entities have to continue the cooperative work to use the funds wisely to address the opioid epidemic.”

Now that the combined $26 billion settlement has entered the final stages of approval, settling states will have 60 days from today to seek entry of a consent judgment that will officially end their suits against the defendants. No settlement funds will be disbursed to a settling state unless a consent judgment has been entered. We urge the states to move quickly to conclude this last step. 

Plaintiffs in the MDL allege the opioid distributors created a public nuisance by ignoring red flags and failing their duty to report suspicious orders that flooded communities nationwide with highly addictive opioid drugs. Plaintiffs also allege the overflow of opioids furthered the crisis by diversion or sustaining an illicit black market that was foreseeable to the companies. 

Motley Rice attorneys represent dozens of governmental entities, including states, cities, towns, counties and townships in litigation filed in both the federal MDL and state courts that allege deceptive marketing and/or the overdistribution of opioids. While the $26 billion settlement resolves the majority of national claims against AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson and J&J, there is more work to do with these defendants and litigation continues against several other opioid industry defendants, including pharmacies.  

The settlement did not resolve an ongoing jury trial for the State of Washington, for which Motley Rice attorneys are outside trial counsel, nor did it resolve litigation filed by West Virginia subdivisions against the “Big Three” distributors. Currently, The City of Huntington, W.Va., (represented by Motley Rice lawyers Anne McGinness Kearse, Linda Singer, David Ackerman, , Temitope Leyimu, Annie Kouba, Natalie Deyneka and Moniqúe Alycia Christenson as trial counsel, with Charles “Rusty” Webb of Webb Law Centre PLLC) and Cabell County (represented by Paul Farrell of Farrell & Fuller Law, Anthony J. Majestro of Powell & Majestro P.L.L.C., and Michael Woelfel of Woelfel & Woelfel LLP) are awaiting a ruling in a federal bellwether trial against the big three. U.S. District Judge David A. Faber presided over the bench trial.  

Motley Rice attorneys also led negotiations for the $260 million settlement that was reached on the eve of trial in 2019 to resolve the MDL’s first track of claims filed by two Ohio subdivisions, Summit County, a Motley Rice client, and Cuyahoga County. Opioid manufacturers and distributors Teva, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson were defendants in the case.   

Read Motley Rice co-founder Joe Rice’s blog about this settlement agreement.  

Learn more by visiting the opioid settlement website.  

Learn more about the National Prescription Opiate MDL.  

Learn more about Motley Rice’s opioid litigation work.

About Motley Rice

Motley Rice LLC is one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ litigation firms. With a tradition of representing those whose rights have been violated, Motley Rice attorneys gained recognition for their pioneering asbestos lawsuits, their work with the State Attorneys General in the landmark litigation against Big Tobacco, and their representation of 9/11 families in the ongoing lawsuit against terrorist financiers. The firm continues to handle complex litigation in numerous areas, including securities fraud; antitrust; consumer protection; mesothelioma; environmental contamination; prescription and over-the-counter drugs; other medical devices; human rights; aviation disasters; and wrongful death. Motley Rice is headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and has additional offices in Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; New Jersey; New York; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; and West Virginia. For more information, contact Motley Rice attorney Joseph F. Rice (DC, SC) at 1.800.768.4026 or visit www.motleyrice.com. Motley Rice LLC, a South Carolina Limited Liability Company, is engaged in the New Jersey practice of law through Motley Rice New Jersey LLC. Esther Berezofsky is the attorney responsible for New Jersey practice. Connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter