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All 169 Conn. towns sign on to national $26B opioid settlement as focus shifts toward allocation

Nicole Leonard
A crowd of people gathered on the north steps of the Capitol building in Hartford to commemorate International Opioid Awareness Day on Aug. 31, 2020.

As demand for addiction treatment grows and overdose deaths in Connecticut remain high, town and city leaders hope they’re one step closer to getting more support in their fight against the opioid epidemic.

All 169 of the state’s municipalities have signed on to a national $26 billion settlement with companies that distributed or manufactured opioid pain medications by Wednesday’s final deadline. The next part in the process will be determining how the money is spent.

“This is something that has impacted all segments of society. It’s your friends, your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, your neighbors, your co-workers,” said Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “And so I think if we can approach that as a state to where we’re all in it together to protect ourselves and our neighbors, then these funds can be put to really good use.”

Connecticut stands to receive an estimated $300 million from the settlement. A majority of the national sum – $21 billion – comes from drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson and is to be paid out to states over 18 years.

An additional $5 billion comes from drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and will be paid out over no more than nine years.

The national agreement settles thousands of lawsuits from state and local governments seeking to hold companies responsible for the opioid epidemic and the rise in related drug overdose deaths.

“All municipalities have signed on before the deadline, which will enable us to bring the maximum settlement proceeds back to Connecticut to fight the opioid epidemic,” said Attorney General William Tong.

Tong is leading national litigation against Oxycontin maker and Stamford-based pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, and its owners, the Sackler family.

A federal judge last month overturned a bankruptcy deal in that case. The initial deal would have required Purdue to pay out $4.5 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits against the company, but it would have shielded individual members of the Sackler family from personal liability.

“Every city and town in the state of Connecticut and across the country have seen the devastation that has been caused by the pharmaceutical manufacturers deliberately misrepresenting the risks of opioid painkillers," said Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, who helped lead efforts in getting local towns and cities to sign on to the settlement with Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors.

Now that some lawsuits are coming to fruition, he said, there will be more money to funnel back into local treatment, abatement and education programs.

Early state data shows that 1,359 people in Connecticut died of a drug overdose last year, the majority of which involved fentanyl, a more potent synthetic opioid.

Despite the grim statistics, DeLong said there were still a handful of towns and cities in Connecticut hesitant to sign on to the settlement, “because they didn’t want to acknowledge that they had any opioid epidemic problem within their community.”

That alone reflects a need for more education and awareness efforts, he said.

“If any community tells you they’re not impacted, either they don’t know or they’re turning a blind eye,” DeLong said. “The quicker that people get up to speed and they understand what needs to be done and how it can be done, it’s only going to help us in our advocacy efforts now.”

As stipulated in the settlement agreement, Tong said the focus will shift to the Connecticut legislature and state leaders who will be responsible for creating an advisory committee tasked with allocating a majority of the reward money.

“A lot of the process that will be really important going forward is making sure that the right representation is on that advisory council,” DeLong said. “It’s really important that we have the right expertise, the right balance, people not only from the local level on this advisory board, but people from different demographics across the state.”

DeLong said the needs in areas like addiction prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery will look different and vary by town and region.

But ultimately, he hopes Connecticut families and residents will benefit the most, either in their fight with a substance use disorder or in the prevention of others from becoming addicted in the first place.

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