Decision to reject national settlement results in additional $24.4M to combat Washington’s fentanyl crisis
SEATTLE — To avoid trial in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit, opioid manufacturer and raw material supplier Johnson & Johnson will pay $149.5 million to Washington state over its role fueling the opioid epidemic. Today’s resolution, filed in King County Superior Court, provides Washington and its local governments with tens of millions of dollars more to combat the fentanyl epidemic compared to the settlement that Ferguson rejected in 2021. Washington is one of three states receiving more than they would have under the 2021 multistate settlement.
Today’s $149.5 million resolution will be paid in one lump sum this fiscal year. The settlement requires that $123.3 million be used to combat the opioid epidemic, including the fentanyl crisis that is devastating Washington communities. Ferguson is directing 50% of these resources to local governments across the state to combat the epidemic in their communities.
In contrast, the rejected settlement promised $98.9 million for Washington and its local governments to address the epidemic, which would have been paid out over a nine year term.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office has recovered more than $1.2 billion for Washington to address the fentanyl and opioid crisis.
Ferguson has now rejected national settlements with five corporations, netting Washington nearly $200 million more resources for improved treatment options, funding for first responders, and other proven strategies to address the epidemic. In 2022, Ferguson reached a resolution, pending bankruptcy court approval, requiring Purdue Pharma to pay $183 million to Washington — $113 million more than the national deal. Also in 2022, Ferguson’s case against the three largest opioid distributors — McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. — led to a $518 million resolution. That was $46 million more than the national settlement promised.
“We have an urgent need for resources to address the fentanyl crisis that is impacting communities in every corner of the state,” Ferguson said. “We are standing up to some of the largest corporations in the world that fueled the epidemic in pursuit of profit, and we are winning critical resources that must be used to address the harm. We have now recovered more more than $1.2 billion to improve treatment options, support first responders, and invest in other proven strategies to combat this crisis — and we’re not done.”
Johnson & Johnson is required to pay the entire $149.5 million within 21 days of the deal being ratified by Washington’s local governments, which must happen by May. The Attorney General’s Office believes the Legislature can appropriate all of the the state’s share during the 2024 legislative session.
The Attorney General’s Office has pending litigation against multiple national pharmacy chains that also helped fuel the epidemic.
Johnson & Johnson’s unique role in proliferating opioids
From the 1990s through at least 2016, Johnson & Johnson, through its subsidiaries, cultivated and processed opium poppy plants and used their raw narcotic materials to manufacture the active ingredients necessary to produce opioid drugs.
In addition to using the processed active ingredients to produce its own opioids, Johnson & Johnson sold them to other major opioid manufacturers for use in making their opioid drugs. The ingredients were used to make oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, naloxone and more.
By 2015, Johnson & Johnson was the top U.S. supplier of the active pharmaceutical ingredients used to make opioid drugs.
Johnson & Johnson’s aggressive marketing of opioids systematically overstated the effectiveness of the drugs for treating pain long term and understated the risk of addiction. Johnson & Johnson marketed its opioid drugs for chronic pain conditions like headaches, low back pain and fibromyalgia, despite evidence that opioids were not effective at treating these conditions.
Johnson & Johnson used both branded marketing and non-branded sources through third-party organizations funded by the company to forward its narrative, like the American Pain Foundation and the American Academy of Pain Management, among others. These efforts included articles in medical journals and publications funded by Johnson & Johnson, materials from professional societies and advocacy groups, and continuing medical education, dinners, seminars, symposiums and conferences paid for by Johnson & Johnson and others.
The third-party groups also funded lobbying efforts to oppose state-level regulation of opioids, including in Washington. For example, the American Pain Foundation provided support to the Washington Pain Alliance to oppose opioid prescription standards in Washington.
Full amount will depend on local government sign-on
As in prior opioid resolutions, in order to obtain the full amount, all 125 eligible local governments will need to sign on to the deal. The Attorney General’s Office expects all eligible jurisdictions to join. All 125 have signed on to all prior opioid resolutions.
Local governments will divide their share of the proceeds according to their own agreed formula. Washingtonians can use this chart to see what their local government will receive as a result of the Attorney General’s litigation to combat the opioid epidemic.
Under the terms of the court orders, all of the money provided to state and local governments must be used to fund opioid remediation efforts.
Examples of programs and support
The Legislature will determine how the state share is allocated in communities around the state. In the 2023 legislative session, the Legislature allocated $64.1 million from the opioid payments. Examples of legislative support included:
- $18,168,000 for prevention, treatment and recovery support services to address and remediate the opioid epidemic.
- $15,447,000 to tribes and urban Indian health programs for opioid and overdose response activities.
- $5,000,000 for the Department of Health to expand the distribution of naloxone through overdose education and a distribution program.
- $4,000,000 for the authority to provide short-term housing vouchers for individuals with substance use disorders.
All spending decisions must be consistent with the state Opioid Response Plan.
Approved strategies include:
- Improving and expanding treatment for opioid use disorder.
- Supporting individuals in treatment and recovery, including providing comprehensive wrap-around services to individuals with opioid use disorder, including housing, transportation, education, job placement, job training or childcare.
- Addressing the needs of pregnant women and their families, including those with babies with neonatal disorder.
- Preventing opioid misuse, overprescribing and overdoses through, among other strategies, school-based and youth-focused programs, public education campaigns, increased availability and distribution of naloxone and other drugs that treat overdoses, additional training and enhancements to the prescription drug monitoring program.
- Supporting first responders.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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