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A pile of pills of different colors, shapes and sizes
Opioids have been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the past 20 yearsImage: Keith Srakocic/AP/dpa/picture alliance
Law and JusticeUnited States of America

Pharma giants to pay Native Americans millions over opioids

February 1, 2022

Native Americans have been one of the groups worst hit by the aggressive marketing of addictive opioids. The settlement is just the most recent in a series of payout agreements.


Native American tribes reached a settlement agreement on Tuesday with major drug companies over the impact of the opioid epidemic on their communities.

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, as well as the US's three major drug distribution companies, agreed to pay out a total of $590 million (€524.5 million).

Native American tribes have "suffered some of the worst consequences of the opioid epidemic," the court filing from the Tribal Leadership Committee said. A study from 2015 cited in the settlement found that Native Americans have the highest per capita opioid overdose rate of any population group in the United States.

The agreement follows similar settlements reached in recent months between drug companies and local governments across the country.

"This settlement is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing and the Company will continue to defend against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve," Johnson & Johnson said.

Overdoses kill 100,000 Americans

What did the drug companies agree to?

More than 400 tribes and intertribal organizations, representing about 80% of the US's Indigenous population, have sued drug companies over opioids.

Each tribe will be able to decide if they want to participate in the settlement.

According to the filing at the US District Court in Cleveland, Johnson & Johnson will pay $150 million over two years.

The three distribution companies — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — will pay out $440 million over seven years.

Tuesday's agreement represents just part of the over $40 billion that drug companies have racked up in settlements, fines and penalties for their role in the production and distribution of opioid drugs.

Pharma companies paying out billions

Opioids, including prescription drugs such as OxyContin and illegal substances such as heroin and fentanyl, are believed to be responsible for over half a million deaths in the US in the past two decades.

The four companies involved in Tuesday's settlement are also finalizing the approval of a settlement to pay out $26 billion to state and local governments.

A separate deal between the distribution companies and the Cherokee Nation includes the payment of $75 million.

In October, pharmaceutical giant Purdue pleaded guilty to pursuing aggressive marketing of its addictive painkiller OxyContin.

ab/nm (AP, AFP)

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