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Teva reaches $21m settlement with Rhode Island over opioid-related claims

Agreement will also see US subsidiary of Israeli generic drugmaker provide over $78m worth of treatments that aid in addiction recovery, prevention

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

Teva's global headquarters in Petah Tikva, Israel. (Sivan Faraj via Teva's Corporate Communications)
Teva's global headquarters in Petah Tikva, Israel. (Sivan Faraj via Teva's Corporate Communications)

Teva Pharmaceuticals, the US subsidiary of Israel’s generic drugmaker giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, will pay the US state of Rhode Island $21 million to settle its opioid-related claims against the company and provide doses of generic medicines that aid in opioid addiction and recovery, valued at $78.5 million.

According to the settlement agreement, the $21 million will be paid to Rhode Island over a period of 13 years, and doses of Narcan (naloxone hydrochloride nasal spray) and buprenorphine naloxone, an opioid medication in tablet form known by the brand name Suboxone, will be made available over 10 years, Teva said in a statement Monday.

The agreement is the latest in a number of recent opioid-related settlements between Teva and US states including Louisiana, California, and Texas, amid ongoing claims that Teva and other drugmakers like Johnson & Johnson, Endo International, and AbbVie’s Allergan engaged in misleading marketing of opioid drugs and downplayed the risks of addiction.

The state of Louisiana claimed that Teva and other pharmaceutical companies “engaged in fraudulent marketing regarding the risks and benefits of prescription opioids, which helped fuel Louisiana’s opioid epidemic.” Teva reached a $15 million settlement with the state in September.

In late December, a suburban New York jury ruled that Teva Pharmaceuticals contributed to the opioid crisis, in one of the verdicts so far among thousands of lawsuits nationwide over the painkillers. The jury found the drug company played a role in what is legally termed a public nuisance but had lethal consequences. Teva said at the time that it “strongly disagrees” with the verdict and plans to appeal.

The 2019 New York lawsuit against Teva, known for making generic drugs, focused on Actiq and Fentora, two brand-name fentanyl drugs approved for some cancer patients. Teva repeatedly promoted them more broadly for other types of pain, in a “deceptive and dangerous marketing strategy,” the lawsuit said.

Teva said Monday that it is actively looking to negotiate a national settlement, as other drugmakers have done.

Pharmaceutical companies and distributors have been facing thousands of claims by state and local authorities that they helped fuel the addiction and overdose epidemic in the US, a health crisis that has claimed the lives of close to 500,000 Americans since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Around the country, state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, school districts and others have sued the drug industry over the painkillers.

Last month, Johnson & Johnson and three major distributors (AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson) finalized nationwide settlements worth $26 billion over their role in the opioid addiction crisis.

Teva was initially part of this group, which, in 2019, offered a settlement valued at $48 billion combined. The company offered $250 million in cash and $23 billion in free drugs.

But the $26 billion national deal was struck without Teva, which has been navigating the lawsuits as they come. This is because the company did not offer as much cash, in part because of a debt load of over $20 billion, Teva CEO Kåre Schultz said last July.

In mid-December, a federal judge rejected OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s sweeping deal to settle thousands of lawsuits over the toll of opioids.

The companies are not admitting wrongdoing and are continuing to defend themselves against the claims that they helped cause the opioid crisis.

Teva said Monday that the settlement agreement with Rhode Island was “not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing” and vowed to “continue to defend itself in court.”

The settlements are expected to provide a significant boost to efforts aimed at reversing the crisis in places that have been devastated by it, including many parts of rural America.

While none of the settlement money will go directly to victims of opioid addiction or their survivors, the vast majority of it is required to be used to deal with the epidemic. State officials are considering public education campaigns, and treatment and detoxification facilities.

With fatal overdoses continuing to rage across the US, largely because of the spread of fentanyl and other illicitly produced synthetic opioids, public health experts are urging governments to use the money to ensure access to drug treatment for people with addictions. They also emphasize the need to fund programs that are proven to work, collect data on their efforts and launch prevention efforts aimed at young people, all while focusing on racial equity.

AP contributed to this report.

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