Camden County hails opioid settlement with J&J as ‘game changer’

Camden, New Jersey. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

Camden, New Jersey. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

The recent settlement between Johnson & Johnson and the State of New Jersey has been widely hailed by leaders as a historic moment in the ongoing opioid crisis.

Camden County Commissioner Director Lou Cappelli called the settlement “a game changer” that allows the county to dedicate a large sum of money towards fighting the crisis. The county will get $32 million of the $641 million settlement that will be paid over the next two decades.

“By having the funds from this settlement and future settlements, we will have a nice pipeline of funds that will be able to help our residents moving forward,” he said.

The county filed a wide-ranging civil suit against drug manufacturers in 2018, accusing the companies of knowingly fueling the opioid crisis that forced local governments to pay to combat it. In addition to New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson, the county also sued Purdue Pharma, Teva USA, along with drug distributors McKesson and Cardinal Health, and retailers Rite Aid and Walgreens, among other companies it accused.

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New Jersey’s settlement includes all 21 counties, including Camden County and at least 200 municipalities. McKesson and Cardinal Health are also part of the settlement with the state in addition to distributor AmerisourceBergen, based in Conshohocken, Pa.

Cappelli, who is also the liaison to the county’s Addiction Awareness Task Force, said the settlement is a step in the right direction, and brings some level of accountability to the companies. He adds this settlement is the first of at least two more that will come soon.

“We’re anxious to start investing in our programs,” he said.

New Jersey saw a 1% increase in drug overdose deaths last year, causing concerns among advocates. Camden County saw a decrease in drug overdose deaths to 290, which Cappelli said is still an alarming number.

“Most of it is related to opioid addiction,” he said. “The other complicating factor, right now, is fentanyl, which is causing a large share of our overdoses.”

According to a review by the county, 93% of the fatalities had opioids in toxicology reports. Seventy percent also had fentanyl in their screens as well.

The money will go towards fighting the opioid crisis, per terms of the settlement. Camden County will use its share specifically for treatment, education, and harm reduction.

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“We have a lot of work to do,” Cappelli said. “We’re ready to keep working hard to invest in our infrastructure to help provide education and treatment to our residents.”

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