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Four drug companies involved in monumental settlement talks over their role in the opioid crisis plan to use prospective payments

as a tax benefit. One even hopes to use funds from the first coronavirus relief act passed a year ago to increase its tax deductions.

It may be legal, but it sure is


Four major U.S. pharmaceutical companies that had a role in the

opioid crisis between 1999 and 2018 have signaled that they intend to use tax breaks to deduct settlement payouts to states from their federal taxes.

Thanks to reporting by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, we know the drug companies hope to collect about $1 billion each in tax breaks from combined proposed settlements of $26 billion to state and local governments for their part in the opioid crisis that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports claimed almost 450,000 lives.

Among the companies planning to reduce its tax liability is Pennsylvania-based AmerisourceBergen, which reported in November that it plans to offset its $6.6 billion settlement with $1.1 billion in tax breaks.

AmerisourceBergen is the company that bought Springfield-based

H.D. Smith in 2017.

A Drug Enforcement Administration database says H.D. Smith distributed 1.1 billion doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone during a six-year period.

That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the 10.7 billion distributed by Ohio-based Cardinal Health.

Cardinal executives say they anticipate receiving a $943 million tax break from the company’s $6.6 billion settlement payment.

Part of that write-off, Cardinal said in a regulatory filing, will come from use of a new corporate tax break created as part of the first coronavirus relief act passed a year ago to help companies struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cardinal is hardly struggling, according to its financial reports.

“Any attempt to reduce your settlement costs by taking advantage of a tax provision intended for businesses suffering coronavirus-related losses is an insult to every community suffering from the opioid crisis and the pandemic,” the House Oversight Committee said in a letter to the drug companies.

It’s not clear what Congress can do now about the tax breaks these companies plan to take. Publicly shaming them may be the only option. And that is an unsatisfying one, particularly for opioid-addicted victims and their families.

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