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Oregon signs onto national legal settlement over opioid crisis

The state of Oregon has signed onto a $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors, over the companies' alleged role in irresponsibly pushing opioids.
Kristian Foden-Vencil
The state of Oregon has signed onto a $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors, over the companies' alleged role in irresponsibly pushing opioids.

Oregon has now joined the ranks of states who’ve signed on to a $26 billion legal settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors over the companies’ alleged roles in the opioid epidemic.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced on Twitter Monday that the state stands to receive up to $332 million from the agreement over the next 18 years, money that will be used on drug treatment and abuse prevention.

“These funds will make a huge difference in how we address substance use disorders going forward and will help put a stop to this decades-long epidemic that continues to cause death and heartache to countless Oregonians and their families,” Rosenblum tweeted.

Oregon’s announcement comes as a 30-day window for states to sign off on the nationwide settlement, announced last month, comes to a close. The majority of states have agreed to the deal, according to Rosenblum, though some have balked. Among them: Washington, where Attorney General Bob Ferguson rejected the deal, saying the state could get more money in court.

The settlement would end legal claims against Johnson & Johnson and the “big three” drug distributors — McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health — over allegations they exacerbated the nation’s opioid crisis by distributing pills to vulnerable areas and downplaying how addictive they could become, among other things.

Johnson & Johnson has denied wrongdoing, but as part of the agreement will no longer deal in opioids.

How much Oregon actually reaps from the settlement will depend on local governments. If cities and counties around the state agree to waive their legal claims against the companies, Oregon is expected to receive more than $330 million. If not, the amount would be less.

According to the Oregon Department of Justice, the state has two years to reach agreement with local governments with respect to the drug distributors’ $21 billion piece of the deal. Governments have one year to reach any agreement when it comes to $5 billion in payouts from Johnson & Johnson.

The $26 billion settlement is the second-largest in history, after a $246 billion settlement with tobacco producers in 1998.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record 93,000 Americans died from a drug overdose last year, a 30% increase from the year before.

In Oregon, overdose deaths from prescription opioids actually decreased markedly between 2006 and 2018, but deaths from heroin and synthetics like fentanyl are rising. Rosenblum said last month that 462 people died in 2020 from unintentional opioid overdose, compared with 280 the year before.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.