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Funds from $26 billion national opioid settlement coming to Sonoma County

A $26 billion settlement between a majority of U.S. states and four big pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic stands to benefit several California communities including Sonoma County.

Johnson and Johnson, a company that manufactured and marketed opioids, and three major pharmaceutical distributors — Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen — have agreed to the settlement which, in addition to a big payout, requires the companies to follow oversight measures.

In 2020, California reported more than 5,000 opioid-related deaths, according to preliminary data from the California Department of Public Health.

Sonoma County recorded 111 opioid overdose deaths in same year, according to the agency.

Exactly how much money will come to Sonoma County is up to the state and is yet to be determined, but it will be designated for efforts to respond to the epidemic locally said Holly Rickett, deputy Sonoma County counsel.

“That’s what this is for. Period,” Rickett said.

The settlement is part of a larger, ongoing national lawsuit against more than 30 defendants responsible for manufacturing, distributing and marketing opioids, a class of powerful and addictive painkillers.

At the heart of the suit, launched in 2018, is the charge that pharmaceutical companies misadvertised and misidentified the effects of opioids such as oxycontin, Rickett said.

“Nothing can undo the devastating loss of life caused by the opioid epidemic, or stop the grief it has caused for its victims and their families, but this proposed settlement represents one step in the process of healing our communities,” Bonta said in the press release.

The four pharmaceutical companies involved in the current settlement will pay out funds over multiple years to 42 States, five territories and Washington, D.C.

Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen will be given 18 years to pay up to $21 billion, while Johnson and Johnson will have nine years to pay up to $5 billion, according to a press release from California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

The first annual payment is due by Sept. 30, Rickett said.

While a big win for those looking to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible, the settlement only deals with a few of the many defendants involved in the suit.

“We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball,” Rickett said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

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