AG Phil Weiser

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser

Numerous states and 4,000 local governmental entities will share in a historic $26 billion agreement with businesses tied to the opioid epidemic that claimed countless lives over the last decades.

But El Paso County might not receive as much money as it could have, because county commissioners decided not to join the case, although opioid overdose deaths here have steadily risen over the years.

In a news release, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced July 21 the agreement was reached with Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen, the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors, and Johnson & Johnson, which manufactured and marketed opioids.

"The agreement would resolve investigations and litigation over the companies’ roles in creating and fueling the opioid epidemic," the release said. "The agreement also requires significant industry changes that will help prevent this type of crisis from ever happening again. A bipartisan group of attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas led the state negotiations."

Said Weiser, “Since I took the oath of office as Colorado’s Attorney General, our team has focused on how to respond to the opioid epidemic, addressing the supply side, the demand side, and the impact of rising levels of addiction. We have taken a leadership role in the litigation in a number of critical matters, including leading a nationwide action against McKinsey & Company, driving a better settlement with the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, and reaching this critical milestone against a set of companies that fueled the opioid epidemic. We now have critical work to do to ensure that these funds—working with our local government partners—are used effectively to abate this epidemic.”

Colorado stands to receive $300 million to address its opioid crisis if local governments agree to the deal, on top of previously paid settlements that totaled $100 million for the state.
 
El Paso County will benefit from the settlement, but it did nothing to push the litigation to this point. Commissioners decided not to get involved in the lawsuit, as we reported in 2018.
 
"Following today’s announcement," Weiser's release said, "states have 30 days to sign onto the deal, and then local governments in the participating states will have an opportunity to also sign on. Ratification of the deal is contingent on a critical mass of states and local governments participating. States and their local governments will receive maximum payments if each state and its local governments join in support of the agreement.
 
"As a lead state, Colorado supports the deal. Once the state formally endorses the deal, Colorado’s local governments will be eligible to participate. Colorado will share its portion of money from this agreement with local governments in our state to support recovery, treatment, and education and prevention programs, as well as appropriate harm reduction efforts and addressing the impact of the epidemic in the criminal justice system."
 
The agreement calls for the three distributors to collectively pay up to $21 billion over 18 years, while Johnson & Johnson will pay up to $5 billion over nine years with up to $3.7 billion paid during the first three years. The total amounts distributed will be determined by the overall degree of participation by both litigating and non-litigating states and local governments. Most of the money will be spent on opioid treatment and prevention. 
 
Read the entire release here, which includes other steps the defendants must take under the agreement. 

Senior Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.