Johnson & Johnson settles with OH counties ahead of opioid trial

Johnson and Johnson reaches settlement with Cuyahoga, Summit counties before opioid trial

Johnson and Johnson reaches settlement with Cuyahoga, Summit counties before opioid trial

With a federal trial pending, the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson agreed Wednesday to pay two OH counties more than $20 million for its role in the ongoing opioid crisis.

The landmark decision was the first to hold a drug manufacturer responsible for the opioid epidemic that began in the late 1990s.

"The settlement allows the Company to avoid the resource demands and uncertainty of a trial as it continues to seek meaningful progress in addressing the nation's opioid crisis", Johnson & Johnson said in a statement. However, the terms stipulate that Johnson & Johnson makes "no admission of liability". "At the same time, the Company remains prepared to defend its actions", the statement said.

It calls for the company to pay $10 million.

Under the settlement, Johnson & Johnson would pay Cuyahoga and Summit counties a combined $10 million while reimbursing them the $5 million they paid in legal and other expenses in the preparation for trial.

Another $5.4m will be given to charities involved with opioid-related programs in the counties.

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An Oklahoma judge ruled against Johnson & Johnson in a similar case in August, ordering the corporation to pay $572 million to the state. Johnson & Johnson says the drugs were "responsibly marketed" and "accounted for less than one percent of the total opioid prescriptions in the United States".

Prescription opioids were the main underlying cause of overdose deaths in OH in 2011, according to the government agency, accounting for a total of 710 deaths that year.

The case involving the OH counties is the first federal case to be brought against pharmaceutical companies and is therefore seen as potentially setting precedent for how similar suits will be handled.

In recent months, the drug companies Endo, Allergan and Mallinckrodt also reached settlements with the two OH counties.

Purdue Pharma, the company that made billions selling the prescription painkiller OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy in September after reaching a multi-billion dollar tentative settlement. The plaintiffs sued almost two dozen drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, alleging that they fueled the nation's prescription opioid epidemic, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 1999.

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