By Joyce Peterson
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – A group of state attorneys general announced a landmark $26 billion deal with drug companies accused of fueling the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic.
Tennessee’s Attorney General calls this “the most complicated civil case in American history.” Those in the trenches helping fight drug addiction call the agreement a game changer.
“It’s a lot of money and it is a good thing,” said Brian Sullivan with Prevention Alliance of Tennessee.
Sullivan knows the statistics all too well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 2,170 Tennesseans died of drug overdoses in 2019. The state experienced a huge spike in 2020, recording 3,128 fatal overdoses.
Sullivan says Wednesday’s announcement about the multi-billion dollar settlement with four drug companies offers great promise in the fight against opioid addiction.
“We certainly hope that a large portion of the expected $600 million that Tennessee is getting from this particular settlement goes toward primary prevention,” Sullivan said.
The attorneys general, led by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, reached a deal with the three largest drug distributors accused of lax controls on painkillers.
McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health, Inc., and AmerisourceBergen Corp are expected to pay a combined $21 billion. Drug maker Johnson & Johnson, accused of downplaying the addiction risk, will pay $5 billion.
“2020 was the deadliest year on record for opioid overdoses in Tennessee,” said Slatery. “About 3,000 people died, mostly involving fentanyl or similar synthetic opioids.
The money is expected to be spent on addiction treatment, family support, education, and social programs. This is the second largest settlement ever after the 1998 tobacco settlement.
“It’s very crucial, because it sends a message that you cannot mislead the public and get away with it,” said Sullivan. “You cannot push something harmful on the public and just turn a blind eye.”
State and local governments must now decide if they want to join this settlement. If governments do not opt in, the dollar amount will go down.