Some of the first of several trials against opioid drugmakers and distributors were set for trial this year to determine how juries would react to the charges. Others remain under the supervision of the federal court system.
It was assumed that the defendants would not budge on settlement. That assumption has proven to be wrong as now drug distributor McKesson Corp has agreed to pay $37 million to resolve a lawsuit by the state of West Virginia seeking to hold it responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic, the state’s attorney general said on Thursday. The West Virginia accord may set an industry-favoring benchmark for other claims.
The McKesson settlement comes more than a month after Purdue agreed to pay $270 million to resolve the Oklahoma attorney general’s lawsuit alleging the drug maker of fueling the opioid crisis in the state. Oklahoma is pushing ahead with a May trial against Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., which are accused of fueling a wave of overdoses tied to opioid painkillers.
The settlement was the largest that a distributor has struck with a state in the litigation. West Virginia in 2017 settled similar cases against rival distributors Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp for $20 million and $16 million, respectively.
McKesson did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement. “McKesson is committed to working with others to end this national crisis … and is pleased that the settlement provides funding toward initiatives intended to address the opioid epidemic,” the company said in a statement.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, were involved in a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The epidemic has prompted lawsuits by state and local governments accusing drug manufacturers like Purdue Pharma of deceptively marketing opioids and distributors like McKesson of failing to detect the diversion of the drugs for illicit purposes.
McKesson in January 2017 agreed to pay $150 million to resolve a federal investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration into whether it failed to report suspicious orders of addictive painkillers.