Oregon to Join $26B Opioid Settlement After Arguments Over Disbursement

Oregon is set to join the $26 billion settlement with the three largest opioid distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson after arguments over disbursement, the state's attorney general said Monday.

The state had argued with cities and counties over Oregon's share of the expected $329 million and how much should go toward attorney fees. However, now an agreement is "imminent," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said.

The three drug distributors, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, and Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay the combined $26 billion settlement to resolve a plethora of state and local government lawsuits in July. However, if the defendants feel there's little participation from states and local jurisdictions, it could result in them backing away from the agreement or decreasing the settlement amount.

Plaintiffs' attorneys said that as of a week ago, a minimum of 45 states had signed onto the settlement or showed their intent to and at least 4,012 cities and counties affirmed their participation.

The settlement would be the second-biggest in U.S. history and tackle damage inflicted by opioids.

The Oregon decision was applauded by plaintiffs' attorneys, who have worked the settlement on the national level and advised cities, counties, and states to sign it.

Rosenblum said the agreement still needs to be formally approved by city councils and county commissions in Oregon to be final.

Last week, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners unanimously permitted the county council to approve the settlement, Commissioner Casey Kulla said. Yamhill County, located southwest of Portland, dealt with overdoses, addiction, and homelessness as a result of the opioid epidemic, like many others in the state.

Oregon, Opioid Settlement, J&J, Opioid Distributors
Plaintiffs’ attorneys said that as of one week ago, a minimum of 45 states had signed onto the settlement with AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson, and Johnson & Johnson, or showed their intent to, and at least 4,012 cities and counties affirmed their participation. In this photo is a close-up of a white Oxycodone Hydrochloride 5 mg pill, marked 05 52, resting on its edge on a white surface, photographed in Lafayette, California, May, 2021. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

"As more communities join in from each state, the greater the funds these communities will receive," lawyer Joe Rice said Monday. "This national settlement is the most efficient way to bring urgently needed resources into communities, with funds being delivered as early as April 2022."

In exchange for the payout, participating states, counties, and cities would have to drop any lawsuits against the defendants and agree not to sue them in the future for the opioid epidemic.

But some feel the settlement isn't enough and doesn't cover the damage caused by opioids, which were overprescribed in massive numbers. In the U.S., more than 500,000 deaths over the last two decades have been linked to opioids, both prescription drugs and illegal ones.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has called the settlement "woefully insufficient." Instead of joining, he sued AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson for $38 billion.

According to Rosenblum's office, the agreement between the state and local governments says:

— Almost half of Oregon's share would go into a fund that would be used to study the availability and efficacy of substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery services across the state. The funds would also be used to address treatment and prevention of substance use disorder, focused on statewide and regional programs and services.

— The remaining 55 percent of Oregon's share would go directly to cities and counties to pay for prevention, treatment, and recovery services at the local level.

"Every dollar we receive must be used judiciously and wisely," Rosenblum said. "For starters, it will provide us with the ability to increase access to lifesaving treatment and recovery services and will support individuals and families who continue to suffer from substance use disorder."

The settlement is second only to the $200 billion-plus tobacco settlement, in 1998, with the nation's four largest tobacco companies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Oregon, Opioid Settlement, J&J, Opioid Distributors
Debra Cross, director of operations for Provoking Hope, an addiction recovery center in McMinnville, Ore., displays an emergency kit used to treat opioid overdose as she stands inside an ambulance converted into a mobile needle-exchange unit on Dec. 9, 2021. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has announced an agreement with Oregon's cities and counties for the allocation of Oregon's approximately $329 million share of an historic $26 billion national settlement with the three largest distributors of opioids and the drug manufacturer. Andrew Selsky/AP Photo, File