Hundreds of American Indian tribes that have suffered disproportionately high addiction and death rates during the opioid epidemic agreed to a tentative settlement of $590 million with Johnson & Johnson and the country’s three largest drug distributors, according to the New York Times. Together with a deal struck last fall between the distributors and the Cherokee Nation for $75 million, the tribes will be paid a total of $665 million. Purdue Pharma has already committed at least tens of millions more to the tribes in a settlement that is in mediation.
American Indians and Alaska Natives have endured disproportionately high opioid-related overdose deaths, by many metrics. In 2016, for example, Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, had an opioid-related death rate of 21 people per 100,000, more than twice the state average. According to one study, pregnant American Indian women were as much as 8.7 times more likely than pregnant women from other demographic groups to be diagnosed with opioid dependency or abuse.
Roughly 15 percent of the total will go toward legal fees and other litigation costs, but the bulk will be directed to addiction treatment and prevention programs, to be overseen by tribal health care experts. Johnson & Johnson will pay the tribes its $150 million portion over two years, starting as soon as the deal is finalized; the distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — will pay $440 million over six and a half years. By contrast, the drug manufacturer will pay thousands of local governments and states $5 billion over nine years, with the distributors paying $21 billion over 18 years.
Although about 175 tribes filed cases against these and other pharmaceutical industry companies, the rest of the 574 tribes will benefit as well. The agreement will go forward after an overwhelming majority of the tribes that sued have signed on. Then money will be allocated to all tribes, regardless of whether they filed a case.