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July 23, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — COVID-19 vaccine-maker Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and three major U.S. drug distributors have reached a landmark $26 billion settlement for the companies’ alleged responsibility in the ongoing national opioid epidemic which claimed a record-breaking 93,000 lives last year. 

In the massive nation-wide settlement negotiated by 15 U.S. state attorneys general, opioid-manufacturer J&J — which also manufactures a double-shot COVID-19 injection — was “accused of downplaying the addiction risk in its opioid marketing” and directed to pay $5 billion over the span of nine years to resolve civil liability, according to CNBC.  

Meanwhile U.S. drug distributors McKesson Corps, Cardinal Health Inc, and AmerisourceBergen Corp are set to pay a combined total of $21 billion over 18 years in consequence of their “lax controls that allowed massive amounts of addictive painkillers to be diverted into illegal channels, devastating communities.” 

The opioid crisis has been raging in the United States for decades, but rose sharply last year amid unprecedented social isolation, lockdowns, joblessness, and difficulty obtaining appropriate medical care due to sweeping controls imposed allegedly to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

A record 93,331 overdose deaths were recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. between January and December 2020, a nearly 30% increase above the previous year’s tally. The CDC found a “concerning acceleration” of overdose deaths spiking between March and May 2020, just when COVID-19-related restrictions took effect.  

According to the AP, experts have concluded that “[l]ockdowns and other pandemic restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get.”  

J&J along with the three distributors named in the settlement have denied allegations that they failed to warn consumers of addiction risks or to prevent the drugs from being trafficked through illegal avenues. 

The attorneys general negotiating the settlement disagreed, helping to craft what The Guardian reports is the “second-largest cash settlement ever, trailing only the $246bn tobacco agreement in 1998.” 

Fellow Big Pharma titan and mRNA COVID-19 vaccine-maker Pfizer broke a record in a slightly different category back in 2009, agreeing to pay more than $2 billion to resolve civil and criminal liability for illegally misbranding or promoting drugs.  

In what was the largest pharmaceutical settlement in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice at the time, Pfizer was forced to pay $2.3 billion “to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from the illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products.” 

Per prior LifeSiteNews reporting, Pfizer’s subsidiaries pleaded guilty to a felony for misbranding a drug which had been pulled from the market, promoting its sale “for several uses and dosages that the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.” 

The company paid out a $1.3 billion criminal fine, then another $1 billion “to resolve allegations” related to the illegal promotion of three other drugs. 

Between 1991 and 2017, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca — three vaccine makers whose COVID shots are widely used across the world — have together paid out a total of $8.62 billion to resolve civil and criminal allegations in 67 state and federal settlements.  

The current settlement involving Johnson & Johnson will reap financial restitution for claims that J&J failed to appropriately articulate the risk of addiction from the opioid drugs it produced.  

The deal comes on the heels of a 2019 Oklahoma ruling which forced the pharmaceutical giant to pay $572 million for its role in Oklahoma’s opioid epidemic, while just last month J&J settled for $230 million for its culpability in New York’s drug crisis. 

Connecticut attorney general William Tong, who helped negotiate the nationwide settlement, put out a message July 22, 2021 announcing the “historic $26 billion settlement with opioid distributors and manufacturers,” saying the money “will go directly to abatement of the opioid addiction crisis, including funding for treatment, prevention programs and resources.” 

“While nothing will bring back the lives of the thousands of people Connecticut families have lost to the addiction crisis,” Tong said, “this money goes a long way to making sure that we can stop this epidemic.” 

The Guardian notes that the ongoing opioid epidemic has been implicated in the overdose deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans since 1999. 

While the crisis has been widespread, its impact has been felt differently in varying regions of the U.S., leading to a lack of consistency in responses from government leaders.  

The proposed settlement involving J&J and the three drug distributors requires the sign-on of at least 44 states to receive some of the cash, while 48 states must signal their affirmation for the full amount to be paid out.  

98% of litigating local governments must also agree, along with 97% of those jurisdictions which haven’t yet sued. 

A base payment up to $12.12 billion would be provided under the settlement if all states agree, with an additional $10.7 billion in “incentive payments based on various factors concerning participation by localities,” The Guardian reports.  

States will have 30 days to approve the deal, while local governments are given up to 120 days to join the settlement. 

Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, an online credit card processing company, was critical of the impact the settlement will make, alleging that though the payout “sounds like a lot… the four companies make $26 billion every two weeks.” 

In addition to its opioid settlements, J&J has faced a series of other controversies just this year, most notably involving a talc baby-powder lawsuit and serious safety risks associated with its COVID-19 shots. 

In June 2021, a Missouri Appeals Court rejected the Big Pharma corporation’s effort to appeal a 2018 decision by a Missouri Circuit Court which awarded a $4.7 billion payout to 22 women who developed ovarian cancer caused by asbestos in the company’s talc baby powder. The Appeals Court reduced the verdict to $2.12 last billion year but maintained the finding of “significant reprehensibility” in J&J’s actions, saying the company failed to warn consumers of the danger. 

Earlier this year, the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer faced controversy after reports of potentially life-threatening blood clots associated with the vaccine were reported to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), leading to a temporary pause of J&J’s vaccine rollout in April.  

Just last week, the FDA added a label to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet warning of a risk of a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) that can cause paralysis.  

Data released last week from the VAERS system recorded 491,218 total adverse events in the United States following injections of experimental COVID-19 shots from all manufacturers, including 11,405 deaths and 36,015 hospitalizations between Dec. 14, 2020, and July 16, 2021.  

The figures are based on voluntary reports to the database, which relies upon passive reporting and bears a disclaimer that reports must be reviewed to determine causal relationships. However, a Harvard Pilgrim study suggested that less than 1% of adverse effects from vaccines are reported to VAERS, implying that reported numbers may actually be far lower than real-world events.