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JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is in line to collect more than $500 million under a $26 billion settlement among states and opioid manufacturers and distributors, Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Thursday.

At a press conference in St. Louis, Schmitt said the settlement will bring much-needed relief to communities that have been devastated by the opioid crisis.

The attorney general said Missouri’s share could be cut in half if counties and cities opt out of the settlement in pursuit of their own legal outcomes.

Schmitt said the opioid epidemic was fueled by “callous pharmaceutical companies” searching for profits.

“The loss of human life has been absolutely devastating,” Schmitt said. “Make no mistake about it, our lawsuit has always had a single mission, getting justice for victims.”

Opioids, including both prescription drugs and illegal ones like heroin and illicitly produced fentanyl, have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000.

“Every dollar will go to fighting addiction and treatment for real people,” said Schmitt, who was flanked at the announcement by the families of overdose victims.

The deal calls for drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to pay up to $5 billion, with billions more from the major national drug distributors. AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health are each to contribute $6.4 billion. McKesson is to pay $7.9 billion.

Additionally, Johnson & Johnson has agreed to stop selling opioids and the distributors have agreed to establish an independent clearinghouse that will track and monitor the number of opioids they send to health care providers and localities.

In a statement, the distribution companies said that while they “strongly dispute” the allegations made in the lawsuits they faced, they believe the proposed settlement agreement and settlement process it establishes “are important steps toward achieving broad resolution of governmental opioid claims and delivering meaningful relief to communities across the United States.”

Johnson & Johnson's statement said the settlement would help make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis.

For Schmitt, the settlement checks off a promise he made when he was sworn into office in January 2019. Schmitt, a Republican, now is in the running for the U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Roy Blunt.

States have 30 days to sign on and local governments have until Jan. 1 to join. Schmitt urged communities to do so. The more governments that sign on, the more the industry will pay.

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