Nearly 70 percent of all overdose deaths in Vermont in 2018 involved opioids — 46,802 people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Last week, the South Burlington City Council voted to join two settlements with major opioid manufacturers, following the lead of Vermont and several other states and hopefully securing funds to lessen the painful effect of the health crisis.

The settlements require three major distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — to pay up to $21 billion over 18 years and the manufacturer — Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson — to pay up to $5 billion over nine years, according to a memo from South Burlington city attorney Joe McNeil.

The total settlement of $26 billion will be distributed to ease the ongoing crisis — for past expenses and future costs — and to a statewide abatement fund.

South Burlington should receive approximately $340,000 from distributors and $78,700 from the manufacturer, a little over 4 percent of Vermont’s cut, McNeil told city councilors at a meeting Nov. 15.

Councilor Thomas Chittenden submitted his support for joining the settlements, noting an independent claim would be pricy for the city to take on.

Similar conversations are happening in communities across the state and many others are on board, city manager Jessie Baker added. However, it’s still unclear how many Vermont municipalities will join in.

The funds most likely have “strings attached,” said city councilor Matt Cota.

According to the settlement, opioid remediation uses include training for first responders, schools and families; increased distribution of overdose drugs like Narcan to uninsured individuals; medication-assisted treatment; funding for community drug disposal programs; increased funding for jails to provide treatment to inmates with opioid dependency; and other uses.

Depending on when states and local governments join the settlements, funds could begin flowing as early as April 2022, according to the settlement.

In addition to abatement funds, the settlement agreements require Johnson & Johnson and the opioid distributors to reform processes and accountability “in order to detect, stop and report suspicious opioids orders,” per the settlement. While Johnson & Johnson stopped marketing opioids in 2015 and stopped selling the highly addictive drugs in 2020, the company agreed to continue the suspension for the next 10 years.

City councilors unanimously voted to join the settlements, which they must sign by Jan. 2.

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