Opioid settlement could funnel $1 billion to Pennsylvania drug prevention, treatment

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Jul. 22—Pennsylvania could be in line to collect up to $1 billion in two massive multi-state lawsuit settlements with four companies that distributed and/or manufactured prescription opioids.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, one of the lead negotiators in the case, said the settlements call for three of the nation's leading pharmaceutical distributors and a major pharmaceutical manufacturer to pay up to $26 billion. The money would go to settle claims that their actions in marketing, manufacturing and distributing prescription opioids lit the fuse that exploded a deadly overdose epidemic.

The $26 billion settlement will be split among Cardinal, McKesson, Amerisource Bergen and Johnson & Johnson and paid out over a period of years. Shapiro said the agreement also requires major industry changes designed to prevent a recurrence of the epidemic that experts say began with prescription painkillers and mushroomed into a demand for illicit opioids that resulted in 93,000 overdose deaths last year alone.

"No amount of money, no number of sanctions will be able to right these wrongs. But this settlement puts in place controls that will go a long way to make sure that this never happens again, and the money that will come to Pennsylvania will help offer and expand life-saving treatment options across our commonwealth," Shapiro said, announcing the settlement.

The settlement comes at a time when drug overdose deaths that peaked locally in 2017 have been increasing again on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tim Phillips, director of the Westmoreland County Overdose Task Force, said those battling the overdose epidemic are cautiously optimistic the settlement might help stem the tide of addiction.

"We're wondering how the funds will flow. We're hoping grassroots organizations, boots-on-the-ground groups that have been operating on a shoestring, will see some of it. My hope is it goes toward our efforts in prevention, intervention and treatment and to innovative programs like re-entry supports for people in recovery," Phillips said.

It's unclear how counties such as Westmoreland, which opted out of the large lawsuits and decided to pursue settlements on their own, will fare.

Shapiro said the agreement would resolve the claims of state and local governments across the country, including the nearly 4,000 that have filed lawsuits in federal and state courts.

Although Pennsylvania has agreed to be part of the settlement, it's unclear exactly how many states will sign on to it. States will have 30 days to sign on to the deal, and local governments in the participating states will have up to 150 days to join to secure a critical mass of participating states and local governments. He said states and their local governments will receive maximum payments if each state and its local governments support the agreement.

The broad outlines of the agreements call for Cardinal, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen to collectively pay up to $21 billion over 18 years. Johnson & Johnson will pay up to $5 billion over nine years, with up to $3.7 billion of that to be paid within the first three years of the agreement.

A spokesman for Shapiro said officials will have a better handle on how much each state receives once the final 150-day deadline for signing on to to the deal expires.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, derdley@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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