As talks escalate to settle thousands of opioid-related lawsuits nationwide, a harsh reality is emerging, the New York Times reports: The money the pharmaceutical industry will pay to compensate communities will likely be far less than once envisioned. Lawyers have been stepping up efforts to reach a national agreement before the start of a New York trial next month. Plaintiffs’ lawyers believe the payout from dozens of opioid makers, distributors and retailers is likely to be less than half of what four tobacco companies agreed to pay more than 20 years ago in a landmark settlement with states over costs associated with millions of smoking-related deaths.
The final amount will fall well short of what public health experts say is needed to heal the long-term effects of the opioid crisis. The 1998 tobacco settlement totaled more than $206 billion over 25 years. In the opioid cases, Joe Rice, chief negotiator for thousands of cities and counties suing the pharmaceutical industry, said, “People would say I was crazy if I thought we could get over $100 billion.” Eric Percher of Nephron Research, an independent investment research firm, predicted that the total would be $75-$85 billion. Estimates vary wildly over how much it would take to finance the treatment, emergency services, law enforcement and other measures needed to fix the problems created by opioids. In October, the federal Council of Economic Advisers said that from 2015 through 2018, the economic toll from opioids was more than $2.5 trillion. Unlike the situation with tobacco, prescription opioids are beneficial for some patients. Also, the dozens of companies targeted in the opioid lawsuits “do some very good things,” said Rice, including making or selling an array of medicines, vitamins and medical devices as well as drugstore products like shampoo and baby lotion.