Vermont will receive about $64 million from nationwide settlements with three major opioid distributors, as well as drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, to help the state recover from the effects of the opioid epidemic.
The cash comes from $26 billion in settlements, initially proposed last summer, that resolved thousands of lawsuits brought by state and local governments alleging that the companies helped fuel the addiction crisis. Distributors McKesson, Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen will collectively pay $21 billion; Johnson & Johnson will contribute $5 billion.
Most states have signed onto the agreement. In doing so, the Vermont Attorney General's Office resolves lawsuits that Attorney General T.J. Donovan had brought against Cardinal and McKesson in state court in recent years.
The multistate agreement is the second-largest in U.S. history, second only to the 1998 deal with big tobacco companies that was worth over $200 billion, Donovan's office said in a press release.
“No amount of money can ever make up for the lives impacted by the opioid crisis,” Donovan said in a statement. “My hope is that these funds are used to invest in treatment and recovery services for those who suffer from substance use disorder and to provide prevention for the next generation.”
The money does not go directly to victims, but must be allocated for services and treatment related to the opioid crisis, and to repay earlier costs. Cash was allocated to states based on a formula that accounted for opioid deaths, addiction and sales figures.
Vermont will receive its share over the next 18 years, with more than two-thirds of the funds going toward a "statewide abatement fund" that will pay for things such as recovery services and treatment, expanding syringe exchange programs, and overdose reversal drugs such as Naloxone, according to a summary of the agreement.
Municipalities and counties split a smaller portion of the money. A dozen Vermont counties and more than 60 municipalities have signed on to the agreement, the AG's Office said.
The agreement follows a $573 million nationwide settlement last year with consulting firm McKinsey, which advised Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma, that netted Vermont $1.5 million. States are still negotiating a deal with Purdue after a federal judge in December rejected a proposed settlement because it included a provision shielding the Sackler family from opioid-related civil liability. Donovan's office was among a small number of states that opposed the provision.
More Vermonters died from opioid overdoses in 2021 than in any previous year, according to data from the Vermont Department of Health. Between January and November, 181 people died of overdoses, mostly from fentanyl. Data from December is still pending.
Vermont's previous record, in 2020, was 157 deaths.