PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Attorney General Peter Neronha announced Tuesday that Rhode Island has reached settlements with multiple defendants in litigation over the opioid crisis, yielding $114 million that will be used to battle the overdose epidemic.
Neronha made the announcement at a 10:30 a.m. news conference at his office in Providence, joined by Gov. Dan McKee, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and a long list of municipal leaders. The settlement covers lawsuits filed by the attorney general’s office in 2018 as well as litigation brought by the municipalities in an effort 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 joining a national settlement with three opioid distributors, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal, and McKesson. Rhode Island cut a state-specific deal to receive the funds regardless of whether the national settlement takes effect, with the first payment arriving within two weeks, his office said.
An additional $21.1 million will come from a settlement with Johnson & Johnson, an opioid manufacturer. A third settlement, $2.59 million with the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., was announced last February.
“All of these companies basically prioritized profits over safety,” Neronha said, adding, “They knew the risks and they didn’t tell anybody.”
All the money is required to be used by the state and municipal governments to abate 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 for how the money should be used, with input from an advisory committee.
The money will come to Rhode Island over the next 18 years. Shekarchi said lawmakers will ensure the money is directed toward “prevention, mitigation and treatment.”
As an example of how the money might be used, Neronha pointed to a decision his office made last summer to allocate $1 million from another opioid-related settlement to purchase supplies of naloxone, which can reverse an overdose.
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Rhode Island is also involved in ongoing litigation against Purdue Pharma, the maker of the painkiller OxyContin, and the company’s owners, the Sackler family.
A federal judge in December rejected a proposed bankruptcy settlement from the company, which would have included a lifetime legal shield for the Sacklers. Neronha has objected to the bankruptcy terms.
In addition, Neronha said the attorney general’s office is continuing to pursue litigation against another opioid manufacturer, Teva, with a trial date looming in March.
Neronha and McKee emphasized the personal toll the crisis has taken on families, sharing stories of individuals they know who have lost loved ones to overdoses. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza discussed the “heartbreak” in his family over a cousin who fell into addiction and disappeared.
About 350 Rhode Islanders die each year due to an overdose, according to the state.
North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi, president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, praised McKee for working when he was lieutenant governor to bring municipal leaders together on their own opioid litigation effort, which he said helped pave the way for Tuesday’s announcement.
Neronha said his office led the opioid litigation effort with the assistance of outside counsel from the law firm Motley Rice. The distributors have agreed to pay the state “millions of dollars in additional funds” to cover the cost of bringing the litigation, according to his office.