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Connecticut Joins Multi-State $26B Settlement With Opioid Drug Distributors And Manufacturers

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong speaks at the Capitol in Hartford Wed., July 21, 2021, to announce a multi-state settlement agreement with four opioid drug distributors and manufacturers.
Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong speaks at the Capitol in Hartford Wed., July 21, 2021, to announce a multi-state settlement agreement with four opioid drug distributors and manufacturers.

Connecticut will join other states and territories in a pending $26 billion settlement with three opioid distributors and one manufacturer, state officials announced Wednesday. They intend to use the money to drive back the opioid epidemic, which continues to claim lives.

“It should go to helping victims and families, and stopping the creation of new victims and new families impacted by this,” said Attorney General William Tong, who was part of a team of state attorneys general who brokered the deal.

The number of drug overdoses and deaths continues to grow each year in Connecticut and nationally, with a majority of cases involving prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. For years, advocates have attempted to hold accountable drug companies that they accuse of flooding the market with medications that proved to be addictive and deadly.

“We are sending a clear message today that it is not ok to prey on vulnerable people with messaging that promises an innocuous medication, and it’s not,” said Maria Coutant Skinner, CEO of the McCall Center for Behavioral Health in Torrington. “This is a message to say this is not ok ever again.”

The most recent data show that 1,378 people in the state died from overdoses in 2020, an increase of 14.6% from the previous year. Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic likely exacerbated the addiction epidemic.

Connecticut’s share of the cash settlement will be about $300 million, most of which will be paid out over an 18-year period. Settlement money from Johnson & Johnson will be distributed over nine years, with the majority coming in during the first three years.

Behavioral health providers say there are thousands more people in active addiction and recovery who stand to benefit from expanded treatment, prevention and support services in an already under-funded area of health care.

“There’s a long list of initiatives that every single person who sits in a seat like mine has shovel-ready to go, if only we had the dollars to be able to do it,” Skinner said. “Today, that changes.”

Pharmaceutical distributors Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, as well as manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, will make payments to states and individual municipalities after facing nearly 4,000 different claims, lawsuits and impending trials nationwide for their roles in the opioid crisis.

About 70% of the money will go directly to the states. Tong said a new Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund Advisory Council managed by Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services will be responsible for distributing the funds to programs, services and providers.

Another 15% will be set aside for direct payments to cities and towns. State officials said more than 40 municipalities and parties in Connecticut waged litigation against the drug companies, but funds will not be limited to only those cities and towns.

The last 15% of settlement money will be managed by the state to benefit victims of the crisis and local communities, and to cover related legal fees.

Paige Niver, of Manchester, is eager to see how the money can help people who are most in need of local prevention and treatment programs. Not that long ago, her daughter depended on those services to survive an opioid use disorder.

“I watched my daughter die a couple times, and she was fortunately brought back to life,” Niver said, “and without good medical treatment, she probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Niver’s family is one of many in Connecticut who’ve been impacted by the opioid crisis. Her daughter, now in her mid-20s, became addicted to opioids that her doctor prescribed following a bicycle accident at 14 years old.

“She even told me at one time that she was probably having too many of these drugs and she didn’t feel good about it. I made a call to the doctor and I said, ‘My daughter says she doesn’t really like these drugs, maybe she’s having too many of them,’” Niver recalled.

“And the doctor said, ‘Well then, you need to up her dose.’ And I was being what I thought to be a responsible mother. I was kind of raised to do what the doctor tells you, so I just kind of said, ‘Yes, sir, I will up the dose.’ And I did that.”

Niver’s daughter is in recovery today.

“And so the settlement to me means that so many people and families who are going through what my family went through, you know, addiction is treatable and it’s preventable,” she said.

In addition to the money, the pharmaceutical companies are agreeing to other stipulations.

The three distributors would be required to establish an independent clearinghouse to provide data and analytics about where drugs are going and how often. They’ll also be required to identify, prevent and report suspicious opioid orders from local pharmacies.

Johnson & Johnson would enter a 10-year agreement to stop selling opioids altogether. The company would no longer fund any promotion of opioids or lobby on any opioid-related activities. The deal also requires the company to share clinical trial data with Yale University’s Open Data Access Project.

States have about 30 days to officially sign on to the settlement agreement. Municipalities and local governments in those states will have up to 150 days to join.

Legal experts say payments could begin as early as April 2022 if the settlement stays on schedule.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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