Advisory Council Would Target $641M From Opioid Lawsuits To Treatment, Prevention

New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would create a fund and advisory council to decide how to disburse about $641 million the state is expected to reap in lawsuit settlements from pharmaceutical companies atoning for their role in the opioid epidemic.

Under the bill, New Jersey would put the money in an Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund to support addiction prevention and treatment programs. A 13-member advisory council would recommend how to distribute it and identify and close gaps in care.

More than 15,000 people have fatally overdosed on drugs in New Jersey in the past five years, including at least 440 so far this year, state data shows.

Annual drug deaths have tripled over the past decade in the Garden State, climbing from about 1,000 in 2011 to 3,081 last year, data shows. Dedicating settlement money to addiction recovery and treatment is the “financially prudent” and “morally responsible” thing to do, said Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington).

Singleton and Sen. James Beach (D-Camden) are the bill’s prime sponsors in the Senate.

“We’ve had such a significant number of overdose deaths here in our state,” Singleton said. “We understand the scourge of opioid addiction and what it has done to families and our communities. We want to use these resources to provide the tools necessary to help bend that curve and give people their lives back and give people hope back.”

The bill will go before the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Monday, after passing unanimously Feb. 3 in the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee. Assemblymen Dan Benson and Anthony Verrelli, Democrats who represent Mercer County, have introduced an identical bill now in the Assembly Budget Committee.

A similar bill made it to the governor’s desk in the last legislative session, but the governor requested some minor tweaks that legislators ran out of time to address in the lame-duck session, Singleton said.

Besides prevention and treatment, the money also would be used to help people struggling with addiction avoid or recover from criminal justice involvement; provide services for specific demographics struggling with addiction, like pregnant women and parents; promote appropriate prescribing practices for opioids; train law enforcement on safe drug handling; and help first responders cope with trauma from responding to opioid emergencies.

New Jersey last summer joined nationwide settlement agreements with New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson and the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen.

Earlier this month, the Attorney General’s Office announced all 21 counties in New Jersey — and all 241 municipalities with populations over 10,000 or that filed related lawsuits — joined the state in signing onto the nationwide settlement agreements.

Besides Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, settlements have been completed with John N. Kapoor, the founder of Insys Therapeutics, and McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm that helped design the aggressive marketing strategies used by opioid manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma.

The settlement money will be paid over 18 years, the office said.

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