New York AG Letitia James settles opioid lawsuit with Johnson and Johnson

by Erika DuBose
letitia james johnson and johnson opioid
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letitia james johnson and johnson opioid

New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, speaks during a news conference, to announce criminal justice reform in New York City, U.S., May 21, 2021. Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Johnson and Johnson, the major pharmaceutical company, has settled a lawsuit over its role in the opioid epidemic, and will pay over $230 million, according to Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York. Other details of the settlement include a ban on advertising or promoting opioids, and ceasing distribution of said drugs. 

Johnson and Johnson noted that it stopped marketing opioids in the United States in 2015, and stopped promoting opioids completely in 2020. The company also denied liability for the opioid crisis that has ravaged the United States since the 1990s.

New York Attorney General Letitia James disagreed with the pharmaceutical giant. “Johnson & Johnson helped fuel this fire,” said AG James in a statement. “While no amount of money will ever compensate for the thousands who lost their lives or became addicted to opioids across our state … these funds will be used to prevent any future devastation.”

Opioid settlement fund

Johnson and Johnson may also be responsible for another $30 million if New York establishes an opioid settlement fund

The major pharmaceutical conglomerate confirmed the settlement had been reached, but declined to accept responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of deaths from opioids since the 1990s

According to a statement by Johnson and Johnson, the settlement “is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing by the company” and is “consistent with the terms of the previously announced $5 billion all-in settlement agreement in principle for the resolution of opioid lawsuits and claims by states, cities, counties and tribal governments.”

Crisis affects people from all backgrounds

And while the opioid epidemic has long been considered a problem among rural White populations, Black men and women who suffer from opioid addiction have been left out of the discourse. From 2011 to 2016, Black men and women had the highest increase of overdoses from synthetic opioids, while opioid-related deaths in Black and Latinx populations increased as well. 

People of color face difficulties in receiving treatment for substance abuse, with barriers to access including a lack of health insurance, and structural racism within the United States’ for-profit healthcare system. Additionally, the link between substance abuse and the overrepresentation of Black men and women in prison is yet another reason that African-Americans often avoid seeking resources or treatment. 

The opioid crisis affects more than just individuals. Over the past 20 years, nearly 250,000 people have died from opioid abuse. The epidemic has also affected the economy to the tune of over $20 trillion in healthcare and job losses

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