Johnson & Johnson inks eleventh-hour settlement worth $230M to avoid NY opioid trial

U.S. opioid epidemic
With drugmakers and distributors facing opioid lawsuits across the country, Johnson & Johnson settled one with New York, agreeing to pay $230 million and avoid a trial set to begin this week. (Stuart Ritchie)

With a high-profile opioid trial set to begin in New York this week, Johnson & Johnson has inked a $230 million settlement to remove itself as a defendant.

As part of the settlement, J&J agreed to permanently end its manufacturing and distribution of opioids nationwide. The company stopped selling and producing opioids last year and halted marketing of them in 2016.

The opioid crisis has killed approximately 500,000 Americans over the last two decades, CDC data show. Drugmakers and distributors face more than 3,400 lawsuits alleging they've played a role in creating the crisis.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, Teva and Endo face $50B opioid trial, pharma’s first since 2019

This week’s trial will be the first of its kind to go to a jury, the New York Times reports, as it targets drugmakers, distributors and suppliers. Other defendants in the lawsuit include AbbVie, Teva, Endo, Mallinckrodt and Purdue Pharma, which has filed for bankruptcy.

“Johnson & Johnson helped fuel this fire, but today they’re committing to leaving the opioid business—not only in New York, but across the entire country,” New York attorney general Letitia James said in a statement. 

For its part, J&J in a statement said the settlement was “not an admission of liability or wrongdoing by the company." The company said its "actions relating to the marketing and promotion of important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible.”

RELATED: Oklahoma judge chops $107M from Johnson & Johnson’s opioid verdict

The trial follows similar litigation by other states and local governments in response to the opioid crisis. In 2019, Oklahoma successfully sued J&J, winning an award for $465 million, a judgment that the company is contesting. In April, four counties in California began their pursuit of $50 billion in damages from J&J, Teva, AbbVie and Endo, claiming that the companies downplayed the risks of opioids while aggressively marking them.

Last year, J&J and drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson proposed a $26 billion settlement with states and cities to settle all of the cases they face. The money—as is the case in the New York settlement—would be used to abate the crisis. In it’s SEC filing, J&J said it has earmarked $5 billion for opioid claims.