How $526 million in opioid settlements will be distributed in Massachusetts

Details are out showing how Massachusetts will receive and distribute up to $526 million to fight the opioid crisis. That's the state's share of two national settlements worth roughly $26 billion. They resolve thousands of lawsuits against one opioid manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, and three of the country’s largest drug distributors.

The $526 million will be divided between the state and any municipality that chooses to join. About 150 cities and towns sued Johnson & Johnson and the three other  parties: Cardinal, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen.

In Massachusetts, cities and towns will get 40% of funds coming to the state, with the rest added to a state trust fund created to ensure settlement dollars are used to address the opioid crisis.

Distribution to cities and town is based on a number of metrics including: the amount of pain medications prescriptions filled in the community, the number of residents with an opioid use disorder and the number of overdose deaths.

Municipalities will receive annual payments, and the amounts will vary widely. Boston, for example, is expected to receive $2.5 million this year as compared to $163,000 for Framingham and $31,000 for Yarmouth.

Peter Merrigan, an attorney representing 125 cities and towns, says he’s confident the money will be used to address the opioid crisis, “not only based on what I’ve heard from our clients and why they brought these lawsuits in the first place, but because we’re also going to have safeguards in place.”

The money comes as drug overdose deaths reach record-high numbers in Massachusetts and across the country.

An advisory group has been meeting to guide spending of state funds received from these and other settlements. Massachusetts is in line for up to $110 million from Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family if that deal is approved by a bankruptcy judge. A plan to spend $10 million, most of which is from an earlier settlement with McKinsey, is underway.

The group has established four priorities: increased distribution of supplies to reduce dangers for drug users or “harm reduction,” easier access to methadone treatment, more recovery housing options and boosting outreach to drug users.

Most of these latest settlement funds will not be available for years to come. The opioid distributors are to pay up to $21 billion spread out over 18 years. Johnson & Johnson is expected to pay $5 billion over nine years. The first payments are to begin this spring or summer.

Healey and other attorneys general who sued J&J and the three distributors alleged the distributors had a duty to review and stop shipments to pharmacies selling suspiciously large numbers of opioid pills. They alleged the company “misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of opioid drugs.”

All four parties have denied any wrongdoing.

There could be more settlement funds coming to Massachusetts. Lawsuits alleging Walmart and other major pharmacies played a role in the opioid crisis are still pending.


Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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