BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Maryland could receive as much as $485 million as part of a $26 billion multi-state settlement in connection with an ongoing investigation of the three largest opioid distributors in the United States – Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson, an opioids manufacturer, state’s Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said in a statement Wednesday.

The settlement will require significant reform of industry practices to prevent this type of crisis from happening again. The proposed agreement is not yet final, according to the statement.

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A team of attorneys met Wednesday via Zoom to discuss the first steps of the process.

“Where we are now is step one,” said attorney Joseph Rice, with the firm Motley Rice, which represents dozens of state and local governments that have sued the drug industry. “The settlement agreement is going to go out to the Attorney Generals.”

Now, it’s in the hands of each state’s Attorney General, like Frosh.

“We know that the epidemic that we face with respect to opioids is growing in strength and we need to use this money to stop it,” Frosh told WJZ in an interview Wednesday.

If Maryland joins the legal agreement, Maryland could receive more than $400 million dollars starting next year from three American opioid distributors and drug manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson.

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“The manufacturers, the distributors knew what they were doing… it was purposeful and they left a trail of addiction and death in their wake,” Frosh added.

Maryland and the other states were investigating allegations that the companies participated in several illegal promotional activities that helped create the opioid crisis while distributing more drugs than warranted for legitimate medical purposes.

The settlement would resolve the claims of participating states and local governments across the country. States now have 30 days to sign onto the deaL and local governments in the participating states will have up to 150 days to join to secure a critical mass of participating states and local governments. States and their local governments will receive maximum payments if each state and its local governments join together in support of the agreement.

Under the proposed agreement:

  • The three distributors collectively would pay up to $21 billion over 18 years;
  • Johnson & Johnson would pay up to $5 billion over nine years with up to $3.7 billion paid during the first three years;
  • The total funding distributed would be determined by the overall degree of participation by both litigating and non-litigating state and local governments;
  • The substantial majority of the money is to be spent on opioid treatment and prevention.

Furthermore, the 10-year agreement would result in court orders requiring Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen to:

  • Establish a centralized independent clearinghouse to provide all three distributors and state regulators with aggregated data and analytics about where drugs are going and how often, eliminating blind spots in the current systems used by distributors;
  • Use data-driven systems to detect suspicious opioid orders from customer pharmacies;
  • Terminate customer pharmacies’ ability to receive shipments, and report those companies to state regulators, when they show certain signs of diversion;
  • Prohibit shipping of and report suspicious opioid orders;
  • Prohibit sales staff from influencing decisions related to identifying suspicious opioid orders;
  • Require senior corporate officials to engage in regular oversight of anti-diversion efforts.

The 10-year agreement would result in court orders requiring Johnson & Johnson to:

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  • Stop selling opioids;
  • Not fund or provide grants to third parties for promoting opioids;
  • Not lobby on activities related to opioids;
  • Share clinical trial data under the Yale University Open Data Access Project.

Opioid overdose deaths rose to a record 93,000 across the country, a nearly 30 percent increase over the prior year in 2020. In Maryland, on average more than six residents die from opioids overdoses each day.  Last year, 2,518 Marylanders died from overdoses. From 2007 to 2019, more than 17,000 Marylanders died due to opioid overdoses.

Annie Rose Ramos