The Opioid Settlement: The Hardest-Hit Communities Might See Funds as Early as May
Money from the $26 billion opioid settlement is about to start flowing to communities that need it most. Still, attorney Peter Mougey says financial compensation (welcome as it is) is just one piece of the puzzle
March 3, 2022
Pensacola, FL (March 2022)—The opioid epidemic has killed hundreds of thousands of people and wounded an entire generation. But now there’s a glimmer of good news for U.S. communities crippled by the crisis that’s been cutting short lives, tearing apart families, and otherwise wreaking havoc for decades: Help is finally on the way.
In July of 2021, in a settlement the Washington Post called “the largest civil action in U.S. history,” Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and the “Big Three” drug distributors—AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson—agreed to pay $26 billion over the course of several years.
Now, a critical landmark has been reached in the settlement. Attorney Troy Rafferty says funds will start flowing into communities as early as May of 2022—a welcome respite for the millions of economically disadvantaged families who’ve endured untold suffering with no end in sight.
“This is a huge victory in light of the countless lives lost and the billions drained from local economies,” says Rafferty, whose firm Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) was at the forefront of the litigation brought by a consortium of law firms from across the U.S. “The best news is that this money is earmarked for treatment, education, and prevention—it can be used only to battle the opioid crisis. Hopefully, this will restore some normalcy for the victims who have previously had no recourse.”
LPR represents 750 cities and counties across the country. Senior partners Mike Papantonio and Troy Rafferty led the McKesson case and took many of the trial-ready depositions. Peter Mougey was co-lead on the distributor case and on the executive committee, while taking point on developing over a billion lines of ARCOS data tracking every opioid pill from the manufacturer to pharmacies around the country.
While the $26 billion will surely help alleviate the immense burden that’s been placed on taxpayers and communities, Mougey says monetary compensation is just one part of the three-pronged settlement that will hopefully prove to be a turning point in the opioid epidemic.
“The second prong is injunctive relief to ensure this won’t happen again,” he notes. “The settlement also requires the ‘Big Three’ drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson to make significant changes to corporate practices to protect consumer health and welfare. For example, a new sophisticated tracking system will reform the way prescription painkillers are distributed.”
The third prong is the nationwide buy-in created by the settlement.
“If you impose serious restrictions in one community, offenders simply move their operations,” says Rafferty. “For example, when Florida cracked down on opioids, the epidemic surged in Georgia as addicted individuals crossed state lines to get their pills. Getting all states and all communities on board created a truly nationwide solution to a nationwide public health crisis.
“This three-pronged approach was critical,” he adds. “Without it, it might have been more of a short-term Band-Aid, and we really wanted long-term transformative change.”
The settlement was made possible in part by the years of advocacy by the entire National Prescription Opiate Litigation Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee (PEC)—led by Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser, Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy, Paul Geller of Robbins Geller, Peter Mougey of Levin Papantonio Rafferty, Joe Rice of Motley Rice, Jennifer Scullion of Seeger Weiss, and Chris Seeger of Seeger Weiss—on behalf of their more than 3,300 community clients. This team of lawyers worked for over four years to cultivate collaborative working relationships with the state attorneys general.
“Fights like these are risky and expensive, but part of our jobs as consumer lawyers is to put it all on the line for the American people,” says Papantonio. “To win this case and bring a modicum of justice to people who’ve been abused by the pharmaceutical industry for decades required a lot of innovation. I’m excited to see how the lessons we learned end up shaping the future of our industry.”
Mougey says the collaboration piece was especially impressive.
“So many people worked hard and pulled together because we knew how much it mattered,” he says. “While nothing can truly make whole what was lost in this country, at least we’ve been able to ensure that thousands of communities nationwide have the tools they need to prevent the opioid epidemic from taking more lives.
“I’m so grateful to have been involved in this once-in-a-lifetime case that will surely have a major impact on one of the biggest social issues of our time,” he adds.
The settlement is the first of its kind to administer resources directly to state and local governments specifically for relief programs to help rebuild after the devastation caused by the opioid epidemic. Funds will be distributed based on population adjusted for the proportionate share of the opioid epidemic impact. The share of the impact is calculated using detailed and objective national data, including the amount of opioids shipped to the state, the number of opioid-related deaths that occurred in the state, and the number of people who suffer opioid use disorder in the state.
“There’s no corner of this country untouched by the opioid epidemic, yet areas like Kentucky, Alabama, and our home in Northwest Florida have been disproportionately affected,” says Rafferty. “They especially deserve justice. It was all about profits with these drug companies, and it’s so good to see they’re being held accountable in a way that helps the victims at least start to turn things around.”
Mougey expresses his gratitude for the people, companies, and communities that were willing to come to the table and make this settlement happen. He says it’s unfortunate that other companies—namely Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart—continue to litigate.
“Corporate social responsibility is one of the biggest success drivers in today’s marketplace,” he adds. “Citizens are watching. Young people, in particular, are watching. When corporations are willing to do the right thing, they win in the long run. And in this case, America’s suffering communities win, too.”
About Levin, Papantonio, Rafferty, Proctor, Buchanan, O’Brien, Barr, Mougey, P.A.:
Founded in Pensacola, Florida, in 1955, the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm has earned a reputation as one of the most successful law firms in the nation. The law firm’s attorneys handle lawsuits throughout the country involving prescription drugs, medical devices, medical malpractice, car accidents, and business litigation. Levin Papantonio Rafferty has earned more than $4 billion in jury verdicts and settlements, litigating against some of the largest corporations in the world. To learn about the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm, visit http://www.levinlaw.com.
About Mike Papantonio:
Mike Papantonio is a senior partner with the law firm of Levin Papantonio Rafferty. He has received numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts on behalf of victims of corporate malfeasance. His award-winning work handling thousands of mass tort cases throughout the nation has helped make Levin Papantonio Rafferty one of the largest plaintiff law firms in the country.
Mr. Papantonio is a board-certified civil trial lawyer by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is a fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and the International Society of Barristers. He is a member of the National Trial Lawyers (past president), American Board of Trial Advocates, the American Association for Justice, the Southern Trial Lawyers Association, and the Florida Justice Association (where he served on the board of directors for five years). Mr. Papantonio is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He is listed in the publications Best Lawyers in America and Leading American Attorney.
About Troy Rafferty:
Troy Rafferty is a senior partner at Levin Papantonio Rafferty. He litigates mass tort, pharmaceutical, and major personal injury cases throughout the country.
Mr. Rafferty has been appointed to handle some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical and mass tort cases. He has been appointed to serve on many plaintiff’s steering committees including the national Vioxx Litigation, which resulted in a $4.7 billion settlement, and the national Zyprexa Litigation, which resulted in a $700 million settlement.
Mr. Rafferty was also one of the leading attorneys in the national Rezulin Litigation. He and his partner obtained a $40 million judgment for a woman who took this diabetes drug. Mr. Rafferty has successfully tried numerous complex pharmaceutical cases throughout the country and currently serves as the plaintiff’s co-liaison counsel in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation MDL.
About Peter Mougey:
Peter Mougey is a senior partner and the chair of Levin Papantonio Rafferty’s Securities and Business Litigation Department. Mr. Mougey has dedicated his career to championing individuals’ rights against the world’s largest companies. Mr. Mougey concentrates his practice in the areas of complex litigation, financial services and securities litigation, and whistleblower or qui tam litigation. Mr. Mougey has represented more than 1,500 state, municipal, and institutional entities—as well as tribal sovereign nations—in litigation and arbitration around the globe. In addition, he has represented more than 3,000 individual fraud victims in state and federal court and arbitrations.
Most recently, in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation MDL, he was selected to serve as co-lead of the distributor case and serves on the plaintiff’s executive committee in what has been called “the largest and most complex case in the history of jurisprudence” by the Washington Post.
Mr. Mougey has served as both the past president and member of the Board of Directors of the National Securities Bar, PIABA. Currently, Mr. Mougey serves on the PIABA Foundation and was recently approved to serve on FINRA’s National Arbitration and Mediation Committee (NAMC). In recognition of his long-term and sustained dedication to promoting the interests of investors, he received the PIABA Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from his peers.