After years of lawsuits launched against opioid manufacturers, four of the largest players have agreed to a $26 billion settlement with the states. This is a historic deal and could be the beginning of the end of an epidemic that has been raging for more than two decades.

The Opioid Epidemic in America

Beginning in the 1990s and early 2000s, physicians began prescribing opioids as painkillers with increasing regularity. After 1995, when the Food and Drug Administration approved OxyContin, physicians were strongly urged to prescribe theses painkillers to their patients. The manufacturers of these prescription drugs pursued aggressive campaigns to convince the medical community and the wider public that their drugs weren’t dangerous or addictive. This misrepresentation of facts and outright deceit allowed for an epidemic of opioid addiction to flourish.

The State Health Access Data Assistance Center measured the growth of opioid overdose deaths between 2000-2017. It found that by 2017, the overdose rate from synthetic opioids (i.e., the opioids manufactured in labs by pharmaceutical companies) was nearly double the rate for all other drug types. An estimated 500,000 people have died from opioid overdoses since 1999. Some of these deaths were from prescribed painkillers, while others were due to addictions that first began with a prescription from a doctor.

Over the years, many have recognized the role that pharmaceutical companies played in fueling the epidemic, launching civil and criminal lawsuits against them. Finally, three of the largest distributors (McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.) and one drug maker (Johnson & Johnson) have accepted some culpability and are settling. They have been working on this settlement for two years and are now finally negotiating a deal that will bring money directly back to the communities they have harmed.

A Path to Recovery 

In 1998 there was a similar settlement between states and tobacco companies. The tobacco companies made a $206 billion deal, but the states were not required to use the funds for public health or tobacco prevention. Fast forward to 2021, the plaintiffs in the opioid lawsuit learned from the mistakes of the past and are making sure that the majority of this settlement is spent on opioid treatment programs, funds for first responders, education and other public health and social services tied to the opioid epidemic.

No amount of money can make up for the pain and suffering these companies have caused for decades, but it is a step in the right direction and can go a long way towards helping people who are now struggling with a substance use disorder. Addiction is a complex disease – there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for anyone. Addiction treatment has advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1990s when the epidemic first began, and physicians and clinicians now have a better understanding of the multipronged approach needed for a successful recovery.

As the settlement draws to a close, the top priority for state and local governments after receiving their share should be to provide evidence-based addiction treatment for anyone who needs it. This could include medication for substance use disorder, behavioral therapy, detoxification and rehab, or some combination thereof. It should also include education and prevention for the general public, to combat the years of misinformation spread by drug manufacturers and distributors. If the states focus on reducing the stigma, removing the easy access to prescription opioids, and increasing the access to addiction treatment, this settlement can help to finally bring an end to the modern opioid epidemic.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call us today at 1-877-MyRehab and we’ll help you on the path to recovery.