Native American Tribes Reach Historic $590 Million Opioid Settlement With Johnson & Johnson and 3 Distributors

Johnson & Johnson headquarters.
U.S. headquarters of Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey.Getty

All federally recognized tribes will be able to participate in the settlement, even if they did not join the lawsuit over claims of opioid abuse.

Native American tribes have reached a historic $590 million opioid settlement against medical giant Johnson & Johnson and three distributors over claims the companies were "knowingly pushing addictive drugs into vulnerable communities."

A Tuesday filing in U.S. District Court in Cleveland laid out basic terms of the agreements with drug maker Johnson & Johnson and the country's three largest drug distribution companies, Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen over allegations that highly addictive opioid prescription drugs had ravaged Native American communities.

Some details of the proposed settlement are still being negotiated.

A statement from Johnson & Johnson said it admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement and that its promotion of pain medications was "appropriate and responsible." The company said it no longer sells prescription opioids in the U.S.

Opioid overdose deaths have consistently risen across the country, with Native Americans being disproportionately affected by the drug crises. 

"This is an historic settlement that goes a small, but important distance toward addressing a killing epidemic that devastated tribal communities," said Lloyd Miller, a lead tribal attorney on the case that represents 120 tribes. "It is historic because at long last Tribes and States are standing shoulder to shoulder in addressing mass disasters."

All 574 federally recognized tribes can receive part of the settlement, even if they didn't participate in the lawsuit, according to tribal lawyers. 

One 2015 study cited in the settlement concluded that Native Americans have the highest per-capita rates of opioid overdoses.

"The dollars that will flow to tribes under this initial settlement will help fund crucial, on-reservation, culturally appropriate opioid treatment services," said Douglas Yankton, chair of North Dakota's Spirit Lake Nation.

AmerisourceBergen said the agreement "will both expedite the flow of resources to communities impacted by the crisis while enabling AmerisourceBergen to focus on ensuring the pharmaceutical supply chain is meeting the needs of health care providers and patients."

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