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Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks in downtown Colorado Springs on Monday, May 17, 2021, during a region-wide town hall with local officials and representatives from drug treatment and recovery organizations in El Paso and Teller counties. During the town hall, local leaders and community members discussed how the Pikes Peak region will use millions of dollars it will receive over the next two decades to mitigate problems caused by the opioid pandemic. (Screenshot courtesy of El Paso County/Facebook)

Four companies have agreed to pay a combined $26 billion to resolve litigation claiming they helped fueled the U.S.’s opioid crisis, and Colorado will receive at least $300 million of that money over the next 18 years, the state attorney general announced Wednesday.

The agreement includes distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmeriSource Bergen along with drug maker Johnson & Johnson, Attorney General Phil Weiser said in announcing Colorado’s support for the settlement in a news conference Wednesday.

The three distributors have agreed to pay $21 billion of the total settlement over the next 18 years. Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay $5 billion. The company would pay out $3.7 billion in the next three years, and the rest over nine years.

The Associated Press reported that under terms of the deal, Johnson & Johnson would not produce any opioids for at least a decade.

Weiser said he supports the payments coming over time because he doesn’t believe governments can or should spend all the settlement money right away.

“It took us 25 years to get into this hole, it will take us time to get out of it," he said. "And so the fact that it's not all up front, I actually think fits with the reality of how we're going to address this epidemic.”

But Weiser said the settlement can’t truly make up for the devastation done to people and families by the opioid epidemic.

“Nothing will be true accountability," he said."

States have 30 days to sign onto the settlement, and then local governments in participating states can join the agreement. How much local governments receive will depend on a community’s population and the opioid crisis’s impact on the area, not on whether a particular government is involved in litigation against the companies involved, Weiser said.

Reuters has reported the ultimate amount of the settlement could change based on the number of states and local governments that agree to the settlements. Some may choose not to sign on in order to pursue litigation on their own, hoping for the possibility of getting more money in the future.

Weiser said the settlement money will go toward drug treatment and recovery services, but added the agreement won’t have sufficient funds for payments to go directly to people with substance use disorders or families that have lost someone in the epidemic.

A statewide council will oversee the spending of the funds to make sure governments use them on abatement of the crisis. Weiser recognized that other types of substance addiction need resources, and said that as long as the funds’ spending addresses opioid addiction, it is also permissible for the money to address other substance use issues.

“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity," he said. "We need to make the most of it. We need to make sure that those lives who've been lost, those families who are hurting, know that that suffering is going to be remembered.”

News of the agreement comes a few weeks after Weiser announced Colorado's support for a settlement with the family behind Purdue Pharma for their accused role in the opioid crisis, from which Colorado could receive at least $50 million.

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