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State leaders consider how to use Johnson & Johnson Opioid Lawsuit settlement money

Lorenzo Gritti for NPR

Michigan could get hundreds of millions of dollars after joining a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and three pharmaceutical distributors over opioid addiction. The next big question will be how lawmakers choose to spend the money.

The total amount of the settlement will depend in part on how many local governments sign on to the agreement by January 2nd. But Assistant Michigan Attorney General Matt Walker says nearly 800 million dollars could go to Michigan and localities throughout the state over 18 years.

“The money is put forth for opioid remediation. And that's a broad term. It can mean a lot of different things.”

Associate sociology professor Liz Chiarello studies narcotics at Saint Louis University. She hopes states spend the money on evidence-backed initiatives like syringe exchanges and methadone treatment. But, she says, that can be a difficult political proposition.

“We have these ideas that nobody should use drugs, and that people who use drugs are bad people, that their lives are disposable, that they can't be counted on to make rational decisions. That they’re not worth investing in. And that is just simply not true.”

Michigan’s health department is surveying members of an opioid task force on possible uses for the funding. The first payment could come next April.