Tribes hit $590 million in opium settlement with J. & J. and distributors

Hundreds of Native American tribes that have suffered disproportionately high rates of addiction and death during the opioid epidemic have agreed to a tentative $590 million settlement with Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson. the country’s three largest drug distributors.

Along with an agreement signed last fall between distributors and the Cherokee Nation for $75 million, the tribes will be paid a total of $665 million.

Additional amounts have also been pledged to them by Purdue Pharma in a settlement that is currently being negotiated.

“We are not solving the opioid crisis with this settlement, but we are getting vital resources to tribal communities to help solve it,” said Steven Skikos, the tribe’s top attorney. crisis”.

The settlement on Tuesday, announced in US District Court in Cleveland, the seat of national drug litigation, is similar to an agreement with states and local governments. last summer.

As expected, if most of the tribes sign, the agreement will be notable for its size as well as the recognition of the 574 federally recognized tribes as a separate contested entity. Their voices have traditionally been excluded or downplayed in national settlements formerly associated with the states, such as Big Tobacco.

About 15% of the total will go to legal fees and expenses but the majority will go to addiction prevention and treatment programs, overseen by tribal health care professionals.

Sault Ste President Aaron Payment said: “My tribe has committed to using any proceeds to respond to the opioid crisis. Chippewa’s Marie tribe in Michigan, has 45,000 members. “The impact of the opioid pandemic is pervasive, so tribes need all the resources we can secure to make our tribal communities whole again.”

One standout achievement of the deal is the timetable, which is much more compact than the one put together last summer with states and local governments. Johnson & Johnson will pay $150 million to the tribes over two years; distributors will pay $440 million over six and a half years.

In contrast, the drugmaker will pay thousands of local and state governments $5 billion over nine years, with distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — paying $21 billion over 18 years.

The distributor did not respond to a request for comment. Johnson & Johnson says the settlement does not represent an admission of wrongdoing. The company said it would continue to defend itself in other cases.

Although about 175 tribes have filed lawsuits against these and other pharmaceutical industry companies, the rest of the 574 tribes will also benefit. The tribes range in population size from about 400,000 to a small number of people. According to 2018 census data, 6.8 million people identify as Indian or Alaska Native, or 2.1% of the U.S. population, of which less than half live on or near the lands. of the tribe and potentially eligible for tribal services such as health care.

But American Indians and Alaska Natives have suffered disproportionately high opioid-related overdose deaths, by many metrics. For example, in 2016, Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, had an opioid-related death rate of 21 deaths per 100,000 people, more than double the state average. According to one study, pregnant Indian women in the US were 8.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with opioid dependence or abuse than pregnant women in other groups.

Lloyd B. Miller, chief attorney for the tribes, said that the settlement “provides too much funding compared to the states on a per capita basis because the opioid disaster has caused so much devastation and no balance among tribal communities.”

The deal will proceed when 95% of the population of the litigating tribes have formally agreed to it. Tribes hit $590 million in opium settlement with J. & J. and distributors

Fry Electronics Team

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