Most U.S. local governments opt to join $26 bln opioid settlement

·2 min read

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) - U.S. cities and counties have embraced a proposed settlement worth up to $26 billion resolving lawsuits alleging three large drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson fueled the U.S. opioid epidemic, a lead negotiator of the deal said on Wednesday, increasing the odds that it will move forward.

About 90% of local governments nationwide that were eligible to participate in the settlement with McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and J&J had opted to do so by a Wednesday deadline, said Peter Mougey, a plaintiffs' lawyer involved in the negotiations.

Those municipalities and counties are located in 45 states and several territories that had earlier agreed to settle with the distributors after the proposed settlement was announced in July https://www.reuters.com/legal/litigation/drug-distributors-jj-reach-landmark-26-bln-opioid-settlement-2021-07-21.

Forty-four states have agreed to settle with J&J. New Hampshire settled with the distributors but opted to keep pursuing a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against J&J.

"To get 6,000 cities and counties to agree on anything at the 90% level in 90 days is unprecedented," Mougey said. "It demonstrates the strength and power of this settlement."

J&J in a statement said it is evaluating the level of participation by eligible local governments. The distributors did not respond to requests for comment.

The deal aims to resolve thousands of lawsuits by state and local governments and future cases they could bring seeking to hold the companies responsible for an opioid abuse crisis that has led to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths.

The money is largely intended to fund treatment and other government programs to address the health crisis.

How much of the $26 billion the companies ultimately pay depends on state and local government participation. About $10.7 billion was tied to local government participation.

The companies have until Feb. 25 to decide whether enough localities joined to proceed with the deal.

Mougey, a partner at the law firm Levin Papantonio, said that by mid-Wednesday, 3,010 local governments pursuing lawsuits against the distributors agreed to settle, along with another 3,405 with populations of over 10,000 that had not filed a lawsuit.

He said 3,038 local governments that sued J&J opted into the deal along with 3,324 non-litigating ones.

Five states have declined to settle with all or some of the companies, including the state of Washington, which is in the midst of a trial in its bid to recover $95 billion from the distributors. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)

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