Health and Science

Top drug distributors in talks to settle opioid litigation for $18 billion, report says

Key Points
  • State and local officials are reportedly in talks with major drug distributors on a potential $18 billion opioid settlement.
  • McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health would collectively pay the $18 billion over 18 years as part of the deal, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma reached a tentative agreement last month to settle some 2,000 opioid lawsuits filed by local governments, Native American tribes and states.
This illustration image shows tablets of opioid painkiller Oxycodon delivered on medical prescription taken on September 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images

State and local officials are reportedly in talks with three major drug distributors on a potential $18 billion settlement of litigation that blames them for helping to fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic.

The potential settlement, according to The Wall Street Journal, would require McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health to collectively pay the $18 billion over 18 years. Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson is also involved in the discussions to pay extra money, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.

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AmerisourceBergen declined to comment. McKesson and Cardinal Health didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. "As previously stated, we remain open to viable options to resolve these cases, including through settlement," J&J spokesman Jake Sargent said when asked about the potential settlement.

States, local governments and Native American tribes have filed some 2,000 opioid lawsuits against the distributors, drugmakers and other companies public officials say contributed to the opioid crisis. The three drug distributors were slated to go to trial Monday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland in what were seen as test cases for the broader litigation.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma said it reached its own tentative agreement last month to settle much of its outstanding opioid litigation. The deal is going to cost the company and its billionaire owners, the Sackler family, about $10 billion, Purdue Chairman Steve Miller said when the company filed for bankruptcy last month. That includes $3 billion from the Sackler family's personal fortune.

OxyContin is a leading prescription opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain in adults. From 1999 to 2017, nearly 218,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. OxyContin first came on the market in 1996.

— CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace and Meg Tirrell contributed to this report.