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Why AG Josh Stein Backs A $48B Opioid Settlement

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.
N.C. Attorney General's Office

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has backed a proposed $48 billion settlement with five companies over the nationwide opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit claims manufacturers misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of their painkillers. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says nearly 2,000 North Carolinians died of opioid related overdoses last year.

WUNC's Will Michaels spoke with Stein about the proposed settlement. Below are highlighted excerpts from the interview.

On concerns about how the settlement funds will be allocated:

"One of the broadest criticisms against the tobacco settlement from 20 years ago was that it was not ironclad and that money go to actually help people who have lung disease or to prevent people from smoking cigarettes. And in subsequent years, including here in North Carolina, the legislature just took that money and put it into the budget. That is not what any of us want. And what we are working hard to ensure is that the funds actually go to abate the crisis, that there will be a state-directed plan to allocate those funds across the state in a distributed fashion where the harm (is) greatest."

On how the state will distribute the settlement money:

"The federal government has, over the last three years provided anywhere from $20 (million) to $40 million a year for this crisis. The problem with what the federal government has done is you never know when the money's coming, and when it's going to stop. And right now, we're at the end of the appropriation, and we don't know if more is going to come. But because that money has come for the last three years, we've already got a mechanism to distribute these funds to attack the problem in the local communities across North Carolina, in a way that actually connects to an individual who's struggling."

On the $250 million settlement for two Ohio counties and why he opposes litigation:

"If every county got what they got on a per capita basis, we would liquidate these companies, many times fold. And frankly, if we did that it would destroy the health care system in the United States. The three drug distributors are McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal. And their job is to take drugs from the manufacturing facilities to the pharmacy. They move 90% to 95% of all pharmaceuticals in this country. If we put them out of business, the entire health care system of the United States will be turned upside down and in great jeopardy. So what we're trying to do is for them to pay the maximum amount they can without putting them out of business."

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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