Healthcare products manufacturer Johnson & Johnson announced on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with two Ohio counties to settle a lawsuit over the company’s role in the ongoing opioid crisis. Under terms of the settlement, Johnson & Johnson would pay Cuyahoga and Summit counties a total of $20.4 million.

“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,” reads a statement from Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals. “The company recognizes the opioid crisis is a complex public health challenge and is working collaboratively to help communities and people in need.”

Janssen Pharmaceuticals manufactured two opioid painkillers, Duragesic and Nucynta ER, that were distributed in the two Ohio counties. Johnson & Johnson also owned two companies that imported the raw materials necessary for the production of the highly addictive opioid oxycodone.

“[The] Company is open to identifying an appropriate, comprehensive resolution of the overall opioid litigation. At the same time, the Company remains prepared to defend its actions,” the statement said.

Under terms of the settlement, Johnson & Johnson will pay the two counties $10 million and reimburse $5 million in legal fees incurred by the plaintiffs. Another $5.4 million would be paid to fund programs to treat opioid addiction in the two Ohio jurisdictions. However, the company makes no admission of liability in the deal. The settlement must be approved by a federal judge to become final.

“This settlement represents yet another milestone in this litigation as it gets much-needed funding into the community while at the same time providing support for programs addressing opioid-exposed babies and their families,” said Frank L. Gallucci, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Ohio and the Opioid Crisis

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio had the second-highest rate of fatal opioid overdoses per capita in 2017, with 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Only West Virginia had a higher rate, with 57.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Nationwide, more than 300,000 people have died from an opioid overdose since 2000.

The lawsuits brought by Cuyahoga and Summit counties are considered a bellwether for other legal actions over the opioid crisis, including a trial set to begin later this month before a federal judge in Ohio. In that case, lawsuits filed against numerous pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and retailers by more than 2,500 jurisdictions including city, county, and Native American governments have been combined into one trial.

Several defendants in the case have settled, but McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., and Henry Schein Inc. are scheduled to go to trial in the case on October 21.

In August, an Oklahoma judge ruled that the marketing practices of Johnson & Johnson helped fuel the opioid addiction crisis in that state and ordered the company to pay $572 million in damages, saying it had “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

Johnson & Johnson has filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

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