Dallas County commissioners voted to accept a $2.3 million settlement Wednesday from pharmaceutical company Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, over the toll of the opioid epidemic.
The agreement is part of a global $26 billion settlement of thousands of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and three of the largest drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.
The settlement comes as opioid abuse and deaths have increased locally and nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic. An epidemic of prescription drug abuse that the lawsuits claim were sparked by widespread marketing and aggressive sales tactics from drug companies has slowed in recent years, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But now abuse of synthetic opioids like fentanyl has skyrocketed.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Tuesday the settlement is a good step forward to resolve ongoing litigation involving the opioid epidemic. He said the money will go to mental health and addiction recovery services, and that $70 million could come to the region through a larger settlement with the State of Texas.
“The opioid distributors knew… that opioids were addictive and they were building a market,” Jenkins said. “Ultimately, through verdicts and settlements, we’re hoping to squeeze the most out of these wrongdoers into programs that are helping families that are impacted by the opioid epidemic.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Tuesday the state agreed to receive $290 million from Johnson & Johnson as part of the settlement. Texas will ultimately get an additional $1.2 billion from the drug distributors, the attorney general’s office said, which will be given out statewide for a wide variety of opioid abatement programs, according to the attorney general’s office.
Dallas and Bexar counties will each get nearly $2.3 million as part of the Johnson & Johnson settlement. Tarrant will receive $509,914.
“This is the next step to bring much-needed funding for Texans who have fallen victim to the irresponsible and deceptive marketing practices from opioid manufacturers that spurred this epidemic,” Paxton said in a prepared statement. “My office will continue to aggressively work to hold those accountable for causing this crisis. These funds will bring life-changing resources to those victimized by this tragic crisis.”
Dallas County’s settlement with Janssen does not impact the county’s suit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, which has met delays due to the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.
A settlement plan for suits against Purdue calls for the Connecticut-based firm to transform into a business with profits used to fight the opioid crisis. Members of the Sackler family who own the company have agreed to give up not only the company but also control of $4.5 billion over time in a deal the company says could be worth $10 billion, according to The Associated Press.
As part of the settlement with Texas announced Tuesday, Janssen will be banned from producing or selling opioids in the state, according to the agreement, and will have new limits and oversight on lobbying, sales and research funding for the next decade. The company hasn’t marketed opioids in the U.S. since 2015, and stopped producing them last year.
The manufacturers and distributors have denied the claims brought in the many lawsuits filed against them. Johnson & Johnson said in a statement Tuesday that their opioid marketing was “appropriate and responsible” and that the Texas settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing.
“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue, and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected,” Michael Ullmann, executive vice president and general counsel for Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement when the global agreement was announced this summer. “This settlement will directly support state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis in the United States.”
Every day, 136 people die from an opioid overdose nationwide. According to the CDC, the crisis has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Drug overdoses increased by 30% nationally last year, according to the CDC.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline for Treatment Referral and Information: 800-662-HELP (4357)
- Recovery Resource Council: 817-332-6329
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
- Narcotics Anonymous: virtual-na.org