Unfair pharmaceutical settlements defended by money-conscious politicians

Some officials are defending corporate pharmaceutical settlements that allow wealthy people to hide behind businesses in order to escape responsibility for causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, ruining millions of lives and profiting from the same of deadly opiate products.

We previously reported that New Jersey intends to join nationwide settlement agreements with New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson and the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors – McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen – to resolve claims involving their roles in fomenting the country’s opioid crisis.

The deal is preventing pharmaceutical companies from creating another drug crisis in the future, according to Governor Phil Murphy, who said, “The funds received from this settlement will aid critical opioid use disorder resources and programs, which will strengthen our ability to save lives by preventing overdose deaths and connecting New Jerseyans to supports and treatment when they need it most.”

“No amount of money will ever be enough to heal the wounds caused by this opioid crisis,” said Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck, a Murphy-appointee. “But these settlements will bring hundreds of millions of dollars into New Jersey to fund life-saving addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery programs, and will require these drug companies to change their business practices so that this never happens again. The victims of this crisis deserve nothing less.”

Noting that the settlement with Purdue Pharma grants immunity to the Sackler family, the company owners whose $11 billion net worth will remain largely untouched, progressive Lisa McCormick said Murphy’s focus on money reveals the Wall Street millionaire’s lack of regard for what really matters to most people.

“No amount of money will ever be enough but Governor Murphy and the Attorney General have sold us out for cheap by striking a deal with these companies that lets them get away with murder,” said McCormick, who has previously called for a corporate death penalty and laws that pierce corporate shields designed to protect criminals from prosecution.

McCormick said the 93,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths in the U.S. last year is a record number that reflects a rise of nearly 30% from 70,630 fatalities in 2019, which was a 4% increase over 2018, so these financial blood money penalties are not working to stop the depravities, and she urged citizens to sign a petition demanding that the Sackler Family and Purdue Pharma are held accountable for the Opioid Crisis.

“Giving a financial slap on the wrist to these corporate killers reveals a total lack of morals, values, and regard for human life,” said McCormick, who argued that “it would be better to pursue justice to the end of the Earth rather than expedite a happy ending that allows politicians to spread around a little money.”

Highlights of the settlement agreements include:

Funding Overview

  • The three distributors – Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen – collectively will pay up to $21 billion over 18 years, a period in which they expect at least 500 times as much in revenue.
  • Johnson & Johnson will pay up to $5 billion over ten years, a period in which the firm expected 200 times as much in revenue before it received contracts for Covid vaccines.
  • The total amount of funding distributed will be determined by the overall degree of participation by both litigating and non-litigating state and local governments.
  • A substantial majority of the settlement money is to be spent on opioid treatment and prevention.
  • Each state’s share of the funds has been determined by agreement among the states using a formula that measures the impact of the crisis on the state using several factors – including the number of overdose deaths, the number of residents with substance use disorder, the quantity of opioids delivered, and the population of the state.

Injunctive Relief Overview

The agreement will result in court orders requiring that, for 10 years, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen must:

  • Establish a centralized independent clearinghouse to provide all three distributors and state regulators with aggregated data and analytics about where drugs are going and how often, eliminating blind spots in the current systems used by distributors.
  • Use data-driven systems to detect suspicious opioid orders from customer pharmacies.
  • Terminate customer pharmacies’ ability to receive shipments, and report those companies to state regulators, when they show certain signs of diversion.
  • Prohibit shipping of, and also report, suspicious opioid orders.
  • Prohibit sales staff from influencing decisions related to identifying suspicious opioid orders.
  • Require senior corporate officials to engage in regular oversight of anti-diversion efforts.

In addition, the agreement will result in court orders requiring Johnson & Johnson to:

  • Stop selling opioids.
  • Not fund or provide grants to third parties for promoting opioids.
  • Not lobby on activities related to opioids.
  • Share clinical trial data under the Yale University Open Data Access Project.

The settlement with Johnson & Johnson came after New Jersey sued Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, in 2018, alleging that it had deceived consumers about the dangers of two of the company’s opioid products with high potential for abuse – Nucynta and Nucynta ER.

Specifically, New Jersey’s complaint alleged that Janssen had minimized the risks of opioids generally and that Janssen had attempted to differentiate its own opioid products from competitors’ products by deceptively promoting Nucynta and Nucynta ER as safer, milder, and less addictive.

In addition to resolving the State’s claims against Janssen, the settlement with Johnson & Johnson would resolve separate claims involving other Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries’ part in supplying raw opium for opioid pharmaceutical products.

In July, New Jersey joined a global resolution of lawsuits that states had brought against the Sackler family and their opioid-manufacturing company, Purdue Pharma.

That settlement – valued at approximately $4.32 billion – is expected to leave members of the Sackler family, some of whom own Purdue Pharma and served on the company’s board of directors, still very wealthy as it dips into their net worth of more than $11 billion over a long period of time and grants immunity from opioid lawsuits to hundreds of individuals, businesses and financial trusts that profited from dealing addictive drugs.

Judge Robert Drain of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York must approve the plan before it is implemented. He’s expected to rule shortly after the court hearing, according to the Times.

A handful of states have filed objections to the plan, and the two divisions of the U.S. Justice Department described it as flawed and unconstitutional, but the efforts seem unlikely to block the deal

According to legal documents filed as part of the case, that immunity would extend to dozens of family members, more than 160 financial trusts, and at least 170 companies, consultants and other entities associated with the Sacklers in exchange for an estimated $110 million for New Jersey.

In January 2021, the state Attorney General settled for an anticipated $5 million bribery allegations against John N. Kapoor, the founder of Insys Therapeutics, Inc., who unlawfully orchestrated payments to New Jersey doctors as part of a nationwide kickback scheme to boost sales of the company’s flagship opioid drug Subsys.

In February, the state Attorney General announced a $573-million nationwide settlement with McKinsey & Company, resolving an investigation into the global consulting firm’s role in designing marketing strategies that contributed to the nation’s opioid crisis, resulting in about $16 million in payments to New Jersey.

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