Opioid Lawsuits: Johnson & Johnson Makes $665 Million Settlement with Native American Tribes 

Opioid Lawsuits

After years of litigation, Native American tribal governments will hold opioid manufacturers responsible for their role in the drug epidemic. On February 1, 2022, hundreds of federally recognized tribes reached a $665 million agreement with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and three drug distributors. 

Many Native American tribes were disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic. Funds from the settlement will be used to support community health programs that address epidemic-related challenges, including drug rehabilitation, family welfare, police services, and other needs. 

Background: Native American Tribes and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic has led to more than 500,000 deaths nationwide since 1999, and the impact of the crisis was felt in many communities across the country-and keenly so among Native American tribes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that Native people die at a rate of 13.7 per 100,000 people from opioid-related deaths. An analysis from The Washington Post found that Native Americans were nearly 50% more likely to face a fatal overdose compared to non-native people.

The crisis was especially devastating for the Navajo Nation, the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, and many of the 38 Native American tribes in Oklahoma. Data obtained by The Post from a formerly confidential U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) database revealed that the number of opioid pills shipped to Oklahoma far exceeded the national average. The state received 57 opioid pills per person yearly between 2006 and 2014, compared to a national average of 36 pills per person.   

The settlement with J&J is a landmark for mass tort litigation affecting Native American tribes. While tribal governments received no funding from mass tort cases, such as the $240 billion tobacco lawsuit settlement in 1998, which also majorly impacted Native communities, the opioid case is a significant acknowledgment of tribal government damages related to the public health crisis. 

Johnson & Johnson and Drug Distributors Held Accountable Across the Country

This is not the first opioid lawsuit payout for which Johnson & Johnson will be responsible. Across the country, state and local governments brought lawsuits against J&J as well as many other liable parties, including opioid distributors, pharmacies, and others responsible for worsening the crisis. 

State attorney generals and other local government representatives argued that the opioid epidemic had cost them billions over several decades since the crisis intensified in the late 1990s. According to research published in the American Journal of Managed Care, the crisis had cost state governments $72.4 billion in Medicaid costs alone over a 15-year period.

In July 2021, the government lawsuits culminated in a $26 billion settlement that most states have agreed to, per National Public Radio (NPR). As with the settlement for tribal governments, these funds will also be used to pay for the costs of treatment and recovery and other community services burdened by the crisis. Some states, including West Virginia, are continuing with litigation in hopes of securing a higher settlement that reflects their purported damages.

You Can Seek Legal Help with an Opioid Lawsuit Today

If an opioid medication or dangerous drug harmed you or a loved one, you could get legal help and guidance on pursuing a case. Fill out a contact form to connect with a mass tort lawsuit lawyer for a consultation.