Native American tribes to receive $665m from drug companies in landmark opioid settlements

Settlement agreement follows other large payouts by drug companies to states and cities impacted by the opioid crisis

Richard Hall
Tuesday 01 February 2022 20:35 GMT
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Native American tribes could receive up to $665 million from drug makers and distributors for the role those companies played in fuelling the opioid crisis in tribal communities, according to a preliminary settlement agreement.

The tentative deals struck with pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and the three largest distributors in the country — McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — is the largest opioid settlement to date for Native Americans, whose communities were disproportionately impacted by the nationwide epidemic.

McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen will pay $515 million over six years to federally recognised tribes, according to a court filing on Tuesday. That figure includes a $75 million agreement struck last year with the Cherokee Nation. Johnson & Johnson will pay $150 million over two years.

The agreement follows similar large-scale payouts by pharmaceutical companies and distributors to states and cities impacted by the nationwide opioid epidemic.

The same four companies are nearing the final stages of approval of settlements worth $26 billion with state and local governments across the U.S. They have until later this month to decide whether enough government entities have signed on to continue in the deal.

The tribal settlements are part of more than $40 billion worth of settlements, penalties and fines rung up over the years by companies over their role in opioids. The drugs, including both prescription drugs such as OxyContin and illicit ones including heroin and illegally made fentanyl, have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the US in the past two decades. Last year saw a record number of overdose deaths, with more than 100,000 deaths in the 12 months up to April 2021.

A Washington Post analysis found that from 2006-2014, Native Americans were 50 per cent more likely to die from an opioid overdose than non-natives.

Approximately 15 per cent of the settlement will go towards legal fees, and the rest has been set aside to deal with the lasting impact of the crisis such as addiction treatment and prevention, healthcare costs and law enforcement. To proceed, the settlement needs to be authorised by 95 per cent of the litigating tribes, together with 14 of the 17 non-litigating tribes.

— With The Associated Press

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