Attorney General Josh Shapiro didn’t get the reaction he probably hoped for from Philadelphia. On July 21, Shapiro announced that a group of attorneys general have reached a settlement agreement worth up to $26 billion with Johnson & Johnson and three major U.S. pharmaceutical distributors — Cardinal Health, McKesson, and the Conshohocken-based AmerisourceBergen — for their role in fueling the opioid overdose crisis.
The upshot: as much as a billion dollars for addiction treatment in Pennsylvania over 18 years, nearly a quarter of which could be paid next year. But to get its share of the money, Philadelphia will need to drop its lawsuits against the companies — two are ongoing, one brought by the city and one by the District Attorney’s Office.
Immediately after the announcement, Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement saying he is “extremely disappointed” that Philadelphia wasn’t consulted during the negotiations that led to the settlement. In addition, the mayor said that “the money provided for in the settlement is too little and will be paid over too long a period of time.”
Both Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his counterpart in Allegheny County, Stephen A. Zappala Jr., filed separate lawsuits asking a judge to rule that Shapiro can’t force them to drop their suits against Johnson & Johnson and the distributors if the state formally agrees to the settlement terms.
Shapiro’s office argues that the settlement is the best Pennsylvania can get and that the risk of counties filing separate lawsuits — and the potential of being mired in years of appeals — isn’t worth it.
The devil, as always, is in the details.
The overall $26 billion figure and the $1 billion to Pennsylvania are upper limits. And the clock is ticking to reach those benchmarks — states have 30 days to decide whether they will join the settlement; localities have another 120 days after that. The pool of available funds for the settlement will ultimately be determined by the number of parties that agree to its terms — the fewer the states and municipalities that participate, the smaller the financial returns.
Shapiro is right that Philadelphia shouldn’t make a decision about the settlement alone — but that doesn’t mean that joining the settlement is the obvious conclusion. The faster Shapiro and Gov. Tom Wolf set a process to facilitate the distribution of funds within the state, with safeguards to ensure that they go toward opioid treatment, the more informed local governments’ decisions would be.
In the meantime, every day nearly three people die of an overdose in Philadelphia and another 10 throughout the state. There are lifesaving measures that the state is still not taking — for example, passing syringe exchange legislation and establishing supervised injection sites. No amount of money that might eventually come from a legal battle will bring back the lives lost during a period of protracted haggling and negotiations.