Wisconsin gets first $6 million in opioid settlement with distributors, Johnson and Johnson

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MADISON (WKBT) — The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced Monday that it has received its first payment of more than $6 million from the National Prescription Opiate Litigation settlement.

In anticipation of receiving the money, the DHS updated its proposal Thursday on how to use and invest the nearly $31 million expected this year under the settlement. The DHS submitted the plan to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance

The NPOL distributions are part of a nationwide agreement with three major pharmaceutical distributors and Johnson and Johnson, to prevent, treat and support recovery from opioid use disorder.

The DHS receives 30 percent of the total allotment of NPOL funds, while counties and municipalities that participated in the litigation, including La Crosse County, get parts of the remaining 70 percent.

“The settlement funds will go a long way toward enhancing our efforts to help people with opioid use disorder and prevent future misuse, overdoses and deaths,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

“Our proposed investments have been informed by recommendations from the public, advocates, providers, first responders, and other partners, to avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ to addressing the state’s opioid crisis,” she said.

DHS strategies outlined in the plan on how to use the money include:

  • Making immediate investments in harm reduction
  • Investing in harm reduction by increasing the availability of Narcan and fentanyl test strips around the state
  • Designating money for new and updated treatment facilities
  • Providing funds for tribal nations to address the dramatic increase in opioid overdose deaths
  • Enhancing data collection and surveillance
  • Funding for family support centers to provide information, education and healthy coping skills, while building resiliency, for family and friends of a person with substance use disorder.

The strategies will be carried out in phases corresponding to the payments Wisconsin will receive this year, with the entire amount for each payment allocated in the plan, Timberlake said.

Attorney General Josh Kaul said, “By holding accountable those who contributed to and profited off the opioid crisis, Wisconsin DOJ, states across the country, and county and local governments have secured substantial recoveries to help fight the epidemic.”

The money must be used promptly to “begin addressing the impacts of this devastating epidemic as soon as possible,” Kaul said.

On Feb. 22, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced final approval of the opioid agreement with three major pharmaceutical distributors, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen and Johnson and Johnson. Payments from the distributors will continue for 18 years, while payments from Johnson and Johnson will be distributed over nine years.

After receiving the initial payment of $6 million Monday, the state expects the remaining $25 million will be paid this calendar year.

Wisconsin’s opioid crisis began in the late 1990s, with an almost 900% increase in opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2018. Opioid overdose deaths decreased by 10% in 2018, but increased significantly in 2020 to a record high of 1,227.

Health officials attribute the increase to several factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid rise in the amount of synthetic opioids and an escalating use of multiple drugs.

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