In reversal, Georgia joins $26 billion U.S. opioid settlement By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tablets of the opioid-based Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) -The state of Georgia has decided to join a proposed $26 billion nationwide settlement resolving lawsuits alleging that three large drug distributors and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:) fueled the deadly U.S. opioid epidemic.

Friday’s announcement by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr marked the latest instance of a holdout state opting into the landmark agreements with J&J, McKesson Corp (NYSE:), AmerisourceBergen (NYSE:) Corp and Cardinal Health Inc (NYSE:).

“We are confident that joining the settlement at this time will prove beneficial to our state, our citizens and our communities, as we continue our fight to end this epidemic and address the widespread damage it has caused,” Carr said.

The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

More than 3,300 lawsuits, largely by state and local governments, are pending seeking to hold those and other companies responsible for an opioid abuse crisis that led to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths over two decades.

Under a proposal unveiled in July, the distributors agreed to pay up to $21 billion to settle the cases and J&J agreed to pay up to $5 billion.

The extent to which state and local governments participate will shape how much the companies ultimately must pay and how much outstanding litigation they face.

The settlement’s backers recently extended to Jan. 26 a deadline for cities and counties in states that backed the proposal to opt-in to the settlements, citing the potential for more states to join.

Nevada on Tuesday joined the distributors’ agreement and cut a deal with J&J consistent with its nationwide proposal. New Mexico in December backed the distributors’ deal.

Georgia’s announcement left just five states for the distributors to contend with, including the state of Washington, which has taken them to trial in a $95 billion case. Six states have not agreed to settle with J&J.

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