TRENTON – All the county and local governments eligible to take part in the nationwide settlement agreement with pharmaceutical companies over their role in the opioid crisis have agreed to participate in it, rather than pursue separate legal action.

Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck said as a result, New Jersey and its counties and municipalities are on track to receive the maximum settlement of more than $641 million. Nationally, the settlement amount is $26 billion.

“No amount of money could ever be enough to heal the wounds that the opioid crisis has caused so many families,” Bruck said. “But it is heartening to see our New Jersey communities joining forces to combat the opioid epidemic together.”

The agreement includes the state, all 21 counties and 241 municipalities that either have populations above 10,000 or had filed related lawsuits. The state signed on last August, and the local governments had until Jan. 26 to decide.

The settlement agreement was reached with New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson and the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors: McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen.

The companies will announce by Feb. 25 if the agreement will go forward, which will depend on how many counties and municipalities around the country participate in it.

Gov. Phil Murphy said the funds from the settlement will support opioid use disorder and harm reduction resources and programs such as education, peer counseling, rehabilitation and treatment.

“I am proud that our counties and municipalities from every corner of the state are coming together to tackle the crisis,” Murphy said.

The Senate health committee is due to take up a bill Thursday that would establish an Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund and Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund Advisory Council and provide that the funds received from opioid settlements be used to support substance use disorder prevention and treatment programs.

The Legislature unanimously passed the bill last June, but Murphy conditionally vetoed it make changes so it would better conform with the legal settlement. The Senate agreed to the changes on the last day of the legislative session, but the Assembly didn't take it up.

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According to the state medical examiner’s office, there were 3,081 suspected drug deaths in New Jersey last year. That was up 1% from a year earlier, which in turn was up 2% from the 2019 total. The peak for drug deaths remains 3,101 in 2018.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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