(Reuters) – The three largest US drug distributors and drug maker Johnson & Johnson have agreed to pay $ 590 million to settle claims by Native American tribes that companies incited an opioid epidemic in their communities, according to court documents.  Tuesday's deal came after the distributors, McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc., along with J&J last year, proposed paying up to $ 26 billion to settle similar claims by states and local governments.
It proposed conciliation with states and local authorities did not cover lawsuits and potential claims from the country's 574 federally recognized Native American tribes and Alaska's indigenous villages, which experienced higher rates of opioid overdoses compared to other communities.
Under the latest settlement agreement, the three distributors would pay nearly $ 440 million over seven years. It is in addition to the $ 75 million they agreed in September to pay the Cherokee Nation in the first settlement with a tribe.
J&J agreed to pay $ 150 million over two years, according to an application in federal court in Cleveland, where most of the opioid disputes are consolidated.
J&J said in a statement that they did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement. It said its measures to promote prescription analgesic opioid drugs were "appropriate and responsible", adding that they no longer sold such drugs.
Distributors did not respond to requests for comment. They have denied wrongdoing.
More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed largely by state, local and tribal governments seeking to hold these and other companies accountable for an opioid abuse epidemic that has led to hundreds of thousands of U.S. overdose deaths over the past two decades.  The lawsuits accuse distributors of lax controls that allowed huge amounts of addictive painkillers to be diverted to illegal channels, and drug manufacturers including J&J to downplay the risk of abuse in their opioid marketing.
Tribal lawyers. In a report, the opioid epidemic's disproportionate impact on their populations resulted in increased costs for health care, social services, child protection, law enforcement and other services.
, as most eligible local government agencies agreed to join the deal. Five states have not settled with any or all of the four companies.
A West Virginia federal judge is considering whether to hold distributors accountable for inciting the epidemic in communities in that state, and the three companies are in the middle of a $ 95 billion lawsuit in Washington state.