R.I. to get $114 million from opioid lawsuit settlements

ATTORNEY GENERAL PETER F. NERONHA announced on Jan. 25 that Rhode Island settled lawsuits related to the opioid crisis with multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical distributors Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. for a total of $114 million. / SCREENSHOT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON WPRI-TV CBS 12
ATTORNEY GENERAL PETER F. NERONHA announced on Jan. 25 that Rhode Island settled lawsuits related to the opioid crisis with multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical distributors Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. for a total of $114 million. / SCREENSHOT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON WPRI-TV CBS 12

PROVIDENCE – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced on Tuesday that his office reached a $9.8 million settlement with American multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson and a $90.8 million settlement with three major drug distributors to resolve lawsuits filed by state and local governments over the roles the companies played in fueling the opioid addiction crisis in Rhode Island.

Neronha said the state is receiving a total of $114 million in opioid lawsuit settlements, including a $2.6 million settlement that was announced previously with McKesson Corp., one of the three distributors sued by the state. The other two pharmaceutical distribution companies that the state settled lawsuits with include Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp., Neronha said, while flanked by other state officials during a press conference held at his Providence office, including Gov. Daniel J. McKee, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, and others.

“The bottom line is all of these companies prioritized profits over safety, and Johnson & Johnson, as a manufacturer, should have done a better job of understanding the impact of these opioids on the people who were using them,” Neronha said. “They knew the risk and they didn’t tell anybody. You can make all the money you want, if you do it the right way. But when you endanger lives, when you know you’re endangering them and you do nothing to stop it, well that’s not good corporate behavior. That’s bad corporate behavior, and that’s what’s been addressed here.”

Neronha said 20% of the funds will go to cities and towns across Rhode Island, and the General Assembly will determine how the rest of the money will be spent across the state, all to be used for the abatement of the opioid crisis.

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Neronha said his office is seeking an additional $10 million from the companies to compensate the state for legal work it did in filing the lawsuits and negotiating the settlements.

While lawsuits against these companies were settled, Neronha said Rhode Island, along with its cities and towns, is still suing Purdue Pharma Inc., the maker of OxyContin, and individual members of the Sackler family that founded the company. A trial date in that case is set for March, he said.

“We’re just not prepared to settle with them,” Neronha said. “I’m only going to settle a case when we have a trial date if I believe it’s in the best interest of the people of the state of Rhode Island. … This settlement in my view made sense because the people in the state will get some money here quickly that will hopefully do some good.”

McKee said the lawsuits are about “helping people who are struggling” with opioid addiction and supporting their families. He said the settlement funds will help make a “significant difference” in the fight against opioid addiction in Rhode Island, and Neronha mentioned the funds could be used for recovery services, along with purchasing the lifesaving overdose-reversing drug naloxone. The settlements will be paid out over the course of 10 to 18 years, state officials said.

Payments from the settlement agreements to the municipalities and the state will commence almost immediately, with the first payment expected within weeks and the second payment to occur in July 2022, according to the attorney general’s office. The distributor settlement will be paid over 18 years, the office said.

“This is a personal issue to families,” McKee said. “This is a personal issue for our communities. We’re certainly determined to make sure that we use these funds to really make a difference over the long haul.”

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.

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