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Missouri to receive $458M in settlement with J&J and other opioid distributors

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt at a senate candidate forum in St. Charles at the state GOP's annual Lincoln Days on Feb. 12, 2022. U.S. Reps. Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler and Attorney Mark McCloskey also attended the candidate forum.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, shown earlier this month, said all Missouri counties had agreed to the $458 million settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three large opioid distributors.

Missouri will receive $458 million to fund drug treatment and prevention programs as part of a settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three other drug distributors.

All 114 of the state’s counties signed onto the settlement, guaranteeing the maximum payout. In return, they agree to drop individual suits against the companies, which include McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, for their role in the opioid epidemic.

“They refused to tell people and misrepresented the addictive nature of these drugs,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Friday. “These were being prescribed because of what these manufacturers and distributors were telling people. You had countless people who became addicted to it.”

Dozens of state and local jurisdictions had sued the companies, alleging they downplayed the addictive nature of opioid painkillers.

To unlock the settlement, all counties that had sued the companies needed to agree to join, said a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

Nearly 150 cities and counties joined the settlement, Schmitt said. Of those, about 100 had filed lawsuits against the companies.

“We had to get all the frogs in the wheelbarrow, as they say,” he said. “Everybody’s included, and that’s why we were able to maximize the settlement.”

The proceeds of the settlement will go directly to addiction treatment and prevention programs, Schmitt said. Sixty percent of the payout will go to the state, and 40% will be distributed to counties. The state’s portion will go to a repository controlled by state agencies, which treatment providers and law enforcement will access through grants.

“Nothing will reverse the damages the opioid crisis has caused,” Schmitt said. “This settlement will bring the resources desperately needed though, to help communities and people who need it most.”

Money from the settlement will be a big help to St. Louis, Mayor Tishaura Jones said.

“St. Louis families deserve justice for the irreparable damage the opioid crisis has inflicted on our homes and communities,” Jones said. “This settlement gives us the opportunity to strengthen our addiction treatment and prevention efforts, and continue to make St. Louis a city where everyone can access the resources they need to thrive.”

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called the settlement a major moment in fighting addiction in the region but said it was just the start.

“St. Louis County has cases against other defendants in the opioid industry and we will continue our tireless pursuit for justice and accountability on behalf of our residents and those statewide impacted by the opioid epidemic,” Page said in a statement. “This settlement ensures funds will go directly to the community programs with proven track records of supporting recovery efforts.”

The money is sorely needed to treat the scores of people addicted to opioids in the state, said Felisha Richards, a project director at Four Rivers, a federally supported health clinic in Rolla.

“It’s easy to get into treatment for a medication-first program, that’s not very costly,” she said. But child care, housing, transportation and other services that people need to recover are expensive. She hopes the state will be flexible when it comes time to distribute the money.

“I think any additional funding that can be streamlined into those communities to bring evidence-based treatment and access to them is always important,” Richards said.

As part of the settlement, Johnson & Johnson admits no wrongdoing. Richards said she thinks that caveat is a fair trade to access the money to treat the state’s addicted people.

“If that’s what they need to get the funding moving, that’s what they need to do,” she said.

“But I think people can read between the lines when nationally, you see that dollar amount.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.