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Delaware expects over $100 million from opioid settlement with J&J and distributors

Delaware Public Media

Delaware is signing on to the multistate settlement with Johnson & Johnson and several distributors over opioid painkillers. 

This week a group of state attorneys general announced a$26 billion settlementwith Johnson & Johnson and three other companies that distributed opioid painkillers during a national addiction and overdose crisis.

State Attorney General Kathy Jennings announced Thursday Delaware will sign on to the deal. The state expects to get more than $100 million dollars to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic over 17 years—with $20 million delivered in the first year. 

“The number of prescription pills that have flooded into our state was orders of magnitude beyond any legitimate medical need,” Jennings said at a press event Thursday. “All the while Big Pharma made money hand over fist, and we have paid dearly.”

According to the Delaware DOJ, opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies shipped 276 million prescription opioids–more than 100,000 a day–into Delaware between 2006 to 2012.  Officials say during that time Selbyville, with a population of just around 2,000 people, received 2 million prescription pills.

Over 1,000 Delawareans have died from drug overdoses in just the past three years.

West Virginia—the only statewith a higher opioid overdose death rate than Delaware in recent years—has rejected the settlement, saying it allocates too much of the money based on population rather than severity of the opioid crisis. But Jennings says it’s sufficient for Delaware.  

“We have opted because of the urgency of the need to act now,” Jennings said. “We believe this will be a game changer for everyone suffering in the state of Delaware, and that it will be enough money—it’s never fully the answer—but it will be enough money for us to chart the right course.”

State justice officials say Jennings helped lead negotiations that resulted in the attorneys general securing an additional $4 billion in the settlement agreement since last summer. 

The settlement also requires the companies to change their practices. 

The state DOJ says the 10-year agreement will prevent J&J from selling opioids, funding third parties that promote opioids or lobbying on activities related to opioids. It will also require distributors Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen to establish systems to detect and shut down “suspicious” opioid orders from customer pharmacies and to set up an independent clearinghouse for data about where drugs are going and how often.

Delaware’s portion of the settlement with J&J, Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen dwarfs the roughly $2.5 million the state got from a deal with McKinsey & Company this spring. Delaware is still working on litigation against other companies over their roles in the opioid epidemic.

Dave Humes, a local advocate with atTAcK addiction who lost his son to a heroin overdose in 2012, approves of the settlement. 

 “The sole intent of the distribution of these funds should be to help those Delawareans that have literally been drugged into addiction,” he said. 

The state legislature passed a bill last month creating a fund and a commission to make sure settlement money is used to fix the opioid crisis and not diverted to other purposes. The measure awaits Gov. John Carney’s signature. 

Humes says the money should go to fund more than just medication-assisted treatment for people struggling with addiction.  

“We can start with things like … safe recovery residence[s], and the funds to get them into those living situations,” he said. “They don’t need jobs. They need career paths, and the scholarships to get them started on those career paths.”

The state will need ten local and county governments to sign on to the deal in order to receive the maximum amount. DOJ officials say they’ve been working with these governments for a year and a half and expect that they’ll all participate. Local governments have 150 days to decide whether to do so.

Delaware had the second highest overdose death rate in the country in 2018 and 2019. The Division of Forensic Science Medical Examiner Unit counted431 drug overdose deaths in Delaware in 2019 and 447 in 2020. There have been over 200 suspected overdose deaths in the state so far this year.


This story has been updated.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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