The attorney general’s announcement came as opioid overdose deaths more than doubled from 2019 to 2022, with 2,048 deaths recorded in 2022, according to the most recent numbers from the Washington State Department of Health.
Under the deal, the state and local governments would have to spend $123.3 million to address the opioid crisis, including on substance abuse treatment, expanded access to overdose-reversal drugs and services that support pregnant women on substances. The rest of the money would go toward litigation costs.
The harm is “left now to policymakers to grapple with,” the attorney general said, “or families and individuals who grapple in a very different way with the real tragedy of addiction.”
The settlement agreement still requires approval from a judge. If approved, the deal would send over $20 million more to respond to the opioid crisis than if the state had signed onto a national settlement in 2021 involving Johnson & Johnson, the attorney general’s office said.
“We have an urgent need for resources to address the fentanyl crisis that is impacting communities in every corner of the state,” Ferguson said.
“We are standing up to some of the largest corporations in the world that fueled the epidemic in pursuit of profit, and we are winning critical resources that must be used to address the harm. We have now recovered more more than $1.2 billion to improve treatment options, support first responders, and invest in other proven strategies to combat this crisis — and we’re not done,” he continued.
“Johnson & Johnson’s aggressive marketing of opioids systematically overstated the effectiveness of the drugs for treating pain long term and understated the risk of addiction,” Ferguson’s office stated in a press release.
“Johnson & Johnson marketed its opioid drugs for chronic pain conditions like headaches, low back pain and fibromyalgia, despite evidence that opioids were not effective at treating these conditions,” it added.
BREAKING: Washington state reaches $149.5 million settlement with Johnson & Johnson over opioid crisis https://t.co/e4o7wwnqB9
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the settlement was reached after he rejected a lesser national settlement offer with Johnson & Johnson that would have provided $98.9 million paid over nine years to Washington state and its local governments.
Based in Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson is required to pay the entire $149.5 million within 21 days of the deal being ratified by Washington’s local governments, which must happen by May. The Attorney General’s Office says the Legislature can appropriate all of the state’s share during the current legislative session.
To obtain the full amount, all 125 eligible local governments will need to sign on to the deal, which is expected.
According to the AG’s office, from the 1990s through at least 2016, Johnson & Johnson through its subsidiaries cultivated and processed opium poppy plants and used their raw narcotic materials to manufacture the active ingredients necessary to produce opioid drugs. The company also sold processed active ingredients to other manufacturers to produce oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, naloxone, and more.