RI Executives Announce $114 Million in Legal Settlements to Address the Opioid Crisis

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Attorney General Peter Neronha announced Tuesday that Rhode Island has reached settlements with several defendants in lawsuits over the opioid crisis, raising $114 million to be used to fight the overdose epidemic.

Neronha made the announcement at a 10:30 a.m. press conference at his Providence office, also attended by Gov. Dan McKee, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and a long list of community leaders. The settlement includes lawsuits filed by the attorney general’s office in 2018, as well as litigation brought by the communities led by attorney Eva Marie Mancuso.

“Today is a good day for the people of the state of Rhode Island,” Neronha said.

According to Neronha’s office, the lion’s share of the settlement money — $90.8 million — will come from the state, which joins a national settlement involving three opioid dealers, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal and McKesson. Rhode Island has made a state-specific deal to receive the funds regardless of whether the national settlement goes into effect, with the first payment arriving within two weeks, its office said.

Another $21.1 million comes from a settlement with Johnson & Johnson, an opioid manufacturer. A third settlement for $2.59 million with consulting firm McKinsey & Co. was announced last February.

“All of these companies were basically putting profits before safety,” Neronha said, adding, “They knew the risks and didn’t tell anyone.”

All of the money must be used by state and local governments to alleviate the opioid crisis, with 80% controlled by the state and 20% distributed to the cities and towns. Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones will take the lead on recommendations on how the money is to be used, with input from an advisory committee.

The money is coming to Rhode Island over the next 18 years. Shekarchi said lawmakers will ensure the money goes to “prevention, mitigation and treatment.”

As an example of how the money could be used, Neronha pointed to a decision his office made last summer to allocate $1 million from another opioid-related settlement to purchase stockpiles of naloxone, which can reverse an overdose can.

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Rhode Island is also embroiled in an ongoing legal battle against Purdue Pharma, makers of the pain reliever OxyContin, and the company’s owners, the Sackler family.

A federal judge in December rejected a proposed bankruptcy settlement by the company that would have offered the Sacklers lifetime legal protection. Neronha has objected to the bankruptcy terms.

Appeals related to Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy proceedings are mounting

Additionally, Neronha said the attorney general’s office is continuing a legal battle against another opioid maker, Teva, whose trial date is set for March.

Neronha and McKee emphasized the personal toll the crisis has taken on families, sharing stories of people they know who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza spoke about the “heartbreak” in his family over a cousin who became addicted and disappeared.

According to the state, about 350 Rhode Island residents die from drug overdoses each year.

North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi, president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, commended McKee for his work while he was lieutenant governor in bringing community leaders together on their own opioid trial efforts, which he says helped bring the To pave the way for Tuesday’s announcement.

Neronha said his office led the opioid trial effort with the assistance of an outside attorney from the Motley Rice law firm. The dealers have agreed to pay the state “millions of dollars in additional funds” to cover the cost of bringing the lawsuit, according to his office.

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