New Jersey is on track to receive more than $641 million as part of a nationwide opioid settlement agreement with Johnson & Johnson and the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors.
Every one of New Jersey’s counties and municipalities that are eligible to join the $26 billion settlement have signed on, which is significant because it paves the way for the state to collect the maximum amount, acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck said Wednesday.
The agreement with New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson and three pharmaceutical distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — would resolve claims involving their roles in the country’s opioid crisis.
New Jersey needed all 21 counties and all 241 municipalities that have populations over 10,000 to approve a settlement in order for the state to be eligible for the maximum amount of more than $641 million.
“No amount of money could ever be enough to heal the wounds that the opioid crisis has caused so many families,” Bruck said. “But it is heartening to see our New Jersey communities joining forces to combat the opioid epidemic together.”
New Jersey announced its participation in the settlements in August, and counties and municipalities were given until Jan. 26 of this year to join.
New Jersey, like other states across the nation, has seen skyrocketing numbers of deaths from opioids such as fentanyl, OxyContin and heroin. Drug-related deaths rose 28% from April 2020 to April 2021, surpassing 100,000 in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Jersey had 2,896 suspected overdose deaths from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30 last year. There were 13,267 naloxone administrations and 3,237,964 opioid prescriptions during that time frame, according to state data.
Pharmaceutical companies have been blamed for promoting the use of highly addictive opioids.
“Regulations, oversight, accountability, ethical practices, were overlooked until eventually we ended up with a crisis,” Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said Wednesday.
“Residents of my community, hardworking parents, vulnerable children, unsuspecting grandparents, all became victims and unwilling accomplices and enablers,” he said.
“Now there is an opportunity to settle and get much-needed help and resources to those impacted and also for campaigns to prevent others from going down that same path, and in this way we can move forward appropriately,” he said.
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The full participation of New Jersey’s counties and municipalities in this “historic settlement” means the state is on track to receive hundreds of millions of dollars that will be used to fund lifesaving addiction prevention, treatment and recovery programs in the future, Bruck said.
The defendant companies are expected to announce by Feb. 25 if the deal will go forward, which will depend on whether enough state subdivisions from around the country have signed up for the settlement, Bruck said.
Lora said that although the amount isn’t enough, it’s better than waiting years or even decades fighting in courts.
Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco said Bergen helped drive the state’s 100% participation.
“I want to give special recognition to Bergen County Deputy County Counsel John Ten Hoeve for his role in reaching this statewide agreement, which holds the entities that helped create the opioid crisis responsible and will provide funds to support addiction services for those who are still suffering as a result,” Tedesco said.
In Palisades Park, Borough Attorney John Schettino said the borough was “thrilled” to be part of the effort to win the maximum settlement. “We are confident the settlement moneys coming to New Jersey will make a real difference in the lives of all our citizens,” he said.
Exactly how the money would be distributed to municipalities is not yet clear.
Kristie Cattafi is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Staff Writer Matt Fagan contributed to this article.