Drug Execs Discuss $18B Opioid Settlement, Dems say ‘Lock’em Up’

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As Democratic presidential contenders joined in calls for imprisoning pharmaceutical execs whose companies fueled the opioid epidemic, three major drug distributors entered talks to pay $18 billion to settle litigation brought by state and local governments.

The harsh line against big pharma was one of the few issues on which the major candidates agreed during their debate Tuesday night in Ohio, with former California Attorney General Kamala Harris comparing pharmaceutical CEOs to “drug dealers,” Vox.com reported.

“I will tell you as a former prosecutor, I do think of this as being a matter of justice and accountability because they are nothing more than some high-level dope dealers,” Harris said. “They should be held accountable. This is a matter of justice.”

The talks with pharma execs are believed to pave the way for a resolution to lawsuits that have shaken the pharmaceutical industry, reports the Wall Street Journal. McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp., and Cardinal Health Inc. would collectively pay $18 billion over 18 years under the deal on the table.

Johnson & Johnson, which was ordered to pay $527 million in August for “false marketing” of opioids, is also involved in the discussions to contribute additional money.

Players up and down the pharmaceutical supply chain, including drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies, have been sued by most states and thousands of city and county governments. Some 2,000 lawsuits allege the industry’s overly aggressive marketing of prescription painkillers and lax oversight over drug distribution contributed to widespread opioid addiction.

The settlement would be the first to achieve a broad resolution of the opioid lawsuits outside of bankruptcy. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP filed for bankruptcy last month in a move to implement a settlement valued at $10 billion to $12 billion but faces opposition from some states that say its owners—members of the Sackler family—should contribute more to the deal.

At least 400,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses of legal and illegal opioids since 1999. The lawsuits seek to recoup the costs borne by communities grappling with widespread addiction, including burdens on emergency services, medical care and foster services for children born to addicted parents.

McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health are among companies slated to go to trial Monday in federal court in Cleveland in the cases of two Ohio counties chosen to serve as a bellwether for the broader litigation.

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