UPDATE 2-New Mexico to join nationwide opioid settlement with drug distributors

·2 min read

(Adds comment from AmerisourceBergen)

By Nate Raymond

Dec 7 (Reuters) - New Mexico has agreed to join a proposed nationwide settlement worth up to $21 billion resolving claims that the three largest U.S. drug distributors fueled a deadly opioid epidemic, the state's attorney general said on Tuesday.

The state was one of eight that until now was not participating in the landmark accord with McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp and Cardinal Health Inc.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement the settlement funds will "allow us to move forward and start to rebuild our communities decimated by this crisis."

The exact amount that will flow to New Mexico will depend on to what extent its local governments opt to join the deal.

The state did not agree to join a related $5 billion proposed settlement with the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson .

AmerisourceBergen said in a statement it believed maximum settlement participation "is in the best interest in all parties in order to expedite the delivery of meaningful relief to affected communities."

Other distributors did not respond to requests for comment.

More than 3,300 lawsuits largely by state and local governments have been filed seeking to hold companies responsible for a drug abuse crisis the U.S. government says led over two decades to nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths by 2019.

The lawsuits accuse drugmakers of downplaying their painkillers' addictive risks and distributors and pharmacies of ignoring red flags that the drugs were being diverted for illicit uses. The companies deny wrongdoing.

Several state attorneys general announced the proposed nationwide settlement in July. The distributors in September said 42 states, five territories and Washington, D.C., had joined it.

Cities and counties within participating states have through Jan. 2 to join as well. The state of Washington recently took the distributors to trial seeking billions of dollars more than it could recoup in the settlement.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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