Vermont will sign on to a national settlement agreement with four opioid distributors, Attorney General TJ Donovan announced Wednesday.
The overall agreement with Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson — each of which manufactured or distributed prescription opioids — is expected to cost the companies around $26 billion. Vermont would receive about $60 million.
The settlement will also demand significant changes in the companies’ business practices. Johnson & Johnson would be banned from producing any opioids for at least 10 years, The Associated Press reported.
The settlement would resolve claims from states and local governments that these pharmaceutical companies fueled the overdose crisis for decades.
From 1999 to 2019, nearly 247,000 fatal overdoses involved prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Vermont Department of Health reported a 38% increase in overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, though many of those involved illicit, nonprescription drugs, or some combination of substances.
The $26 billion settlement represents a fraction of the estimated damage to the U.S. economy caused by opioid-related overdoses, according to figures from a 2019 study by the Society of Actuaries.
The study estimated overdoses caused $631 billion in economic losses just between 2015 and 2018. Most of that figure is calculated from lost lifetime earnings and excess health care costs.
“It is imperative that some of this money be directed to local communities to abate the opioid crisis,” Donovan said in a press release Wednesday.
Governments will be limited in how they spend settlement money, The Wall Street Journal reported. The money cannot be used for general budget spending.
Vermont continues to oppose a separate opioid-related settlement with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, even as other states have dropped their objections. Donovan has said the litigation with Purdue doesn’t demand enough from the company’s owners, the Sackler family.
Purdue has faced about 3,000 lawsuits from state and local governments. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019.
Lawyers representing local governments told AP that details of the distributors’ settlement could be public in the next few days. Once finalized, each state would have 30 days to agree to the terms. Local governments in participating states would then have an additional 120 days to sign on.
The final terms of that settlement are still under review.
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