Massachusetts Receives Opioid Crisis Settlement

Staff Writer: Maya Arruda

Email: marruda7@umassd.edu 

In July 2021, a massive settlement occurred between the state of Massachusetts and the major pharmaceutical companies responsible for producing and selling opioid-based pain relievers and contributing to the opioid epidemic.

(https://www.gazettenet.com/Opioid-report-on-western-Mass-28259271)

Nationwide, this settlement involved $26 billion dollars. The state of Massachusetts got $525 million for opioid rehab programs and, to put it bluntly, damage control.  

Of this $525 million, 60% will be funneled to a statewide opioid crisis management fund while the remaining 40% will be split between the state municipalities.

According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ official web page about the settlement money, the municipalities can spend their share of the settlement money on harm reduction methods and what they term abatement strategies. A payment timeline and other information can be found on the state government’s FAQ page.  

In general, the abatement strategies range from support of rehab programs, programs to prevent addiction, reduction in opioid-induced death, and programs in the criminal justice department to more effectively deal with opioid-related crime. The official document detailing what these abatement strategies entail can be found here.

The money given to the municipalities must be used towards one of these abatement strategies, as per the terms of the settlement. 

The Town of Dartmouth alone is expecting to receive $1.5 million out of the settlement money. Currently, two payments of $40,211.53 and $42,260.35 have been made to Dartmouth from the Distributor settlement.

In the last town meeting on October 18th, an official fund to deal with the opioid problem was created, but no concrete abatement plans were decided on. It should be noted that only the first payment of $40,211.53 has been deposited within the Opioid Settlement stabilization fund. 

While the settlement money will be used to repair some of the damage caused by the opioid epidemic, a settlement with these responsible pharmaceutical companies means that they will not face any harsher legal penalties other than the settlement fee.

By paying out this large sum of money, it is true that opioid recovery programs will receive the funding that they rightly need. However, the question remains: is this settlement a good thing? 

Is it just? 

By pre-emptively ending a court case on the legality of producing and selling opioids to the masses with a settlement, these companies will never have to go to trial for selling opioids. 

They will never face legal justice for the harm they have caused. Countless lives have been lost or ruined because of the drug these companies peddled.  

For the sake of plain greed, people have died, and by paying an admittedly paltry sum, these companies have avoided facing punishment.

One of the companies in the settlement, Johnson and Johnson, had a $93.77 billion dollar revenue in 2022 alone. The entire settlement for the opioid crisis amongst all of the pharmaceutical companies nationwide was only worth $26 billion dollars.  

The settlement also raises the question of whether human lives can be bought and sold.

By giving away $26 billion to the government to essentially clean up the mess made by the drug they peddled, it is like saying that the people who died from this drug – everyone who was hurt and continues to be hurt by opioid use and addiction – is only worth that one, less than one-third of a year’s profits.

It is practically a slap on the wrist.

The whole affair reminds me of an episode of Leverage where the episode’s villain, a pharmaceutical company’s CEO who knowingly released a harmful drug, tells the audience that it doesn’t matter if the public knows the truth about the drug. He proclaims, without a single ounce of regret or shame, that the company would settle for about $20 million when the truth comes out, and that in the meantime, the company would make $20 billion from this drug.

Few things are as depressing as when the villain is right.

While the settlement marks a breath of fresh air for anti-opioid programs and establishments, it still remains a failure of the American government to exact legal justice on wealthy corporations. It only serves to reinforce the notion that knowingly peddling toxic or addictive drugs won’t have drastic consequences so long as you do it on a big enough scale, no matter how many people were hurt or killed.

It is, in short, nothing more than a deeply unsatisfying disappointment in a line of deeply unsatisfying disappointments.

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