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Johnson & Johnson to pay $5 billion toward US opioid settlement

According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdoses involving prescription and illegal opioids kill 128 people every day in the United States. Since 1999, over 750,000 people in the U.S. have died from opioid overdoses.

Who is responsible? With this many deaths, it's unrealistic to blame drug users and doctors alone. Millions of people have become addicted to drugs legally prescribed to them. These were not isolated incidents of improper prescribing or lack of self-control.

Instead, many experts blame the manufacturers of the drugs. Some manufacturers are accused of deceptively marketing their medications as safer and less addictive than they actually are. Some manufacturers may have ignored signs that the painkillers were being diverted illegally away from normal prescriptions.

Others point the finger as well at prescribing doctors and pharmacies that filled some of the prescriptions. In some instances, certain doctors may have written far more opioid prescriptions than some of their comparable colleagues. Similarly, some pharmacies knew or should have known patterns of opioid prescription behavior -- like individuals who seemingly had what should have been a red flag of too many prescriptions being filled, or doctors who may have demonstrated a pattern of writing many opioid prescriptions -- that should have caused the pharmacies to speak up.

Regardless, much of the blame has focused on the manufacturers who deployed a sales team and implemented a sales strategy designed to encourage doctors to write opioid prescriptions.

Federal lawsuits underway against several opioid manufacturers

Over 3,000 lawsuits are pending against opioid manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson, McKesson Corp. and AmerisourceBergen. States, cities and municipalities filed most of the suits, and some of the lawsuits have been combined into multi-district litigation.

The first case to go to trial was in Oklahoma against J&J. The state won a $465 million judgment against the company. J&J is appealing.

Meanwhile, negotiations to settle the remaining lawsuits have been ongoing. Last October, J&J agreed to a settlement framework arranged by a group of state attorneys general. That agreement would have had J&J pay $4 billion.

Now, J&J has committed to paying an additional $1 billion, bringing its total agreed amount to $5 billion. The drug maker said in a statement that the additional money represented ongoing negotiations and that final terms are being agreed upon.

In a statement, a lead attorney for the local governments involved said that the plaintiffs' lawyers were "very pleased" with J&J's intention to resolve the cases out of court. Other parties did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

The companies involved in the lawsuits, including J&J, deny any wrongdoing. However, products liability law holds that manufacturers may be held liable when their products are misused in a foreseeable way.

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