The Opioid Settlement: The Hardest-Hit Communities Might See Funds as Early as May

Mar 09, 2022 at 08:42 pm by Staff


Money from the $26 billion opioid settlement is about to start flowing to communities that need it most. Still, attorney Peter Mougey says financial compensation (welcome as it is) is just one piece of the puzzle.

          The opioid epidemic has killed hundreds of thousands of people and wounded an entire generation. But now there’s a glimmer of good news for U.S. communities crippled by the crisis that’s been cutting short lives, tearing apart families, and otherwise wreaking havoc for decades: Help is finally on the way.  

          In July of 2021, in a settlement the Washington Post called “the largest civil action in U.S. history,” Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and the “Big Three” drug distributors—AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson—agreed to pay $26 billion over the course of several years. 

          Now, a critical landmark has been reached in the settlement. Attorney Troy Rafferty says funds will start flowing into communities as early as May of 2022—a welcome respite for the millions of economically disadvantaged families who’ve endured untold suffering with no end in sight.

          “This is a huge victory in light of the countless lives lost and the billions drained from local economies,” says Rafferty, whose firm Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) was at the forefront of the litigation brought by a consortium of law firms from across the U.S. “The best news is that this money is earmarked for treatment, education, and prevention—it can be used onlyto battle the opioid crisis. Hopefully, this will restore some normalcy for the victims who have previously had no recourse.”

          LPR represents 750 cities and counties across the country. Senior partners Mike Papantonio and Troy Rafferty led the McKesson case and took many of the trial-ready depositions. Peter Mougey was co-lead on the distributor case and on the executive committee, while taking point on developing over a billion lines of ARCOS data tracking every opioid pill from the manufacturer to pharmacies around the country.

          While the $26 billion will surely help alleviate the immense burden that’s been placed on taxpayers and communities, Mougey says monetary compensation is just one part of the three-pronged settlement that will hopefully prove to be a turning point in the opioid epidemic.

          “The second prong is injunctive relief to ensure this won’t happen again,” he notes. “The settlement also requires the ‘Big Three’ drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson to make significant changes to corporate practices to protect consumer health and welfare. For example, a new sophisticated tracking system will reform the way prescription painkillers are distributed.” 

          The third prong is the nationwide buy-in created by the settlement.

          “If you impose serious restrictions in one community, offenders simply move their operations,” says Rafferty. “For example, when Florida cracked down on opioids, the epidemic surged in Georgia as addicted individuals crossed state lines to get their pills. Getting all states and all communities on board created a truly nationwide solution to a nationwide public health crisis.

          “This three-pronged approach was critical,” he adds. “Without it, it might have been more of a short-term Band-Aid, and we really wanted long-term transformative change.”

          The settlement was made possible in part by the years of advocacy by the entire National Prescription Opiate Litigation Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee (PEC)—led by Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser, Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy, Paul Geller of Robbins Geller, Peter Mougey of Levin Papantonio Rafferty, Joe Rice of Motley Rice, Jennifer Scullion of Seeger Weiss, and Chris Seeger of Seeger Weiss—on behalf of their more than 3,300 community clients. This team of lawyers worked for over four years to cultivate collaborative working relationships with the state attorneys general.

          “Fights like these are risky and expensive, but part of our jobs as consumer lawyers is to put it all on the line for the American people,” says Papantonio. “To win this case and bring a modicum of justice to people who’ve been abused by the pharmaceutical industry for decades required a lot of innovation. I’m excited to see how the lessons we learned end up shaping the future of our industry.”

          Mougey says the collaboration piece was especially impressive.

          “So many people worked hard and pulled together because we knew how much it mattered,” he says. “While nothing can truly make whole what was lost in this country, at least we’ve been able to ensure that thousands of communities nationwide have the tools they need to prevent the opioid epidemic from taking more lives.

          “I’m so grateful to have been involved in this once-in-a-lifetime case that will surely have a major impact on one of the biggest social issues of our time,” he adds.

          The settlement is the first of its kind to administer resources directly to state and local governments specifically for relief programs to help rebuild after the devastation caused by the opioid epidemic. Funds will be distributed based on population adjusted for the proportionate share of the opioid epidemic impact. The share of the impact is calculated using detailed and objective national data, including the amount of opioids shipped to the state, the number of opioid-related deaths that occurred in the state, and the number of people who suffer opioid use disorder in the state.

          “There’s no corner of this country untouched by the opioid epidemic, yet areas like Kentucky, Alabama, and our home in Northwest Florida have been disproportionately affected,” says Rafferty. “They especially deserve justice. It was all about profits with these drug companies, and it’s so good to see they’re being held accountable in a way that helps the victims at least start to turn things around.”

          Mougey expresses his gratitude for the people, companies, and communities that were willing to come to the table and make this settlement happen. He says it’s unfortunate that other companies—namely Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart—continue to litigate.

          “Corporate social responsibility is one of the biggest success drivers in today’s marketplace,” he adds. “Citizens are watching. Young people, in particular, are watching. When corporations are willing to do the right thing, they win in the long run. And in this case, America’s suffering communities win, too.”


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