Massachusetts Turns Settlement Money into Windfall for Mental Health

What do you do with the money you win when you sue a pharmaceutical company for paying kickbacks and violating consumer protection laws surrounding mental health medications? Well, you could use some of that money to shore up mental health services in your state, and turn the rest into mental health grants.

That’s just what Massachusetts did last week, following the settlement of a three-part lawsuit against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson.

Under the settlement, Massachusetts received a total of $62.5 million. For Johnson & Johnson’s widespread kickbacks program, $47 million will go to MassHealth, Massachusetts’ state-run Medicaid program. For violating the state’s consumer protection laws—namely, pushing their drug Risperdal to treat dementia and other maladies that weren’t part of the FDA’s approved uses of the drug—Johnson & Johnson is paying an additional $15.1 million. That’s where the grant money is coming from.

Of these funds, $3.5 million is going into the commonwealth’s general fund, and $2 million is going to the Massachusetts Department of Health, to curb the misuse of antipsychotic medications. But the rest of the money, $9.6 million, is shunting on over to Attorney General Martha M. Coakley, and she’s decreed that the lion’s share, $8 million, should be distributed in grants throughout the state.

While the full list of the 22 organizations receiving funding hasn’t been released, we know some of the key players, and it seems the theme is access: bringing mental health services to underserved areas, taking away the stigma long associated with mental health treatment, and developing new programs better tailored to those who need them most.

We know Coakley’s had this issue on her agenda for quite some time. “We must all focus on making sure that mental health services are available and accessible to all who need it,” Coakley said back in October 2013. “We owe it to the patients who are silently suffering, we owe it to our veterans who return home with injuries we cannot see but can be equally debilitating, and we owe it to families who have loved ones they are trying to help but may not know how.”

Among the grant recipients: Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention, which offers services for students with anxiety, depression and other disorders; Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, to increase access to services for young victims of sexual violence; and the Lynn Community Health Center, for providing behavioral health services to at-risk children in three elementary schools.