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Bexar County approves first settlement in opioid lawsuit with drug manufacturers

Millions of dollars heading Bexar County's way from the settlement are expected to go towards opioid treatment programs.

SAN ANTONIO — They are calling it the first of many. 

On Tuesday, Texas and Bexar County officials approved their respective parts of a settlement with Johnson & Johnson after filing a lawsuit over the opioid epidemic.

“Finally, after three years we see some real things happening here and some money coming our way to help,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said after commissioners approved the $12 million settlement.

It’s an end and a beginning. The Bexar County Commissioners Court approved their part of a statewide settlement with Johnson & Johnson over the epidemic's effect, and in the pharmaceutical company's role in exacerbating it. 

“Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay $291,841,000 and change into the qualified settlement fund representing Texas’s allocation of the entire global abatement,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said at a Houston news conference.

Bexar County participated in one of three “bellwether” trials—sample trials that indicate how future litigation will play out. Of the roughly $12 million heading the county's way, $4 million will go directly to the county and $8 million as a part of the payment to the regional public health sector. The county is committed to putting all the money toward opioid treatment programs.

“We made a pledge to the citizens of Bexar County when we filed this lawsuit that we would use those funds for treatment programs."

Paxton said he expects settlements from three other drug companies to eventually bring Texas’s total up to $1.5 billion.

“This is just the beginning of payback for some of the things that these companies have done,” Paxton said. “And the beginning of helping people that have lost people and that have people that are suffering in their families because of the opioid epidemic.”

In its own statement announcing the settlement, Johnson & Johnson denied responsibility for the opioid epidemic, saying, in part:

“The company’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of important prescription opioid medications were appropriate and responsible.”

The nearly $300 million settlement reflects the amount Texas would have received had it signed off on a nationwide settlement reached earlier this year. But that settlement would have spread payments over a decade. 

Wolff said he’s hopeful that the other companies with lawsuits pending will see this as a sign that it’s time to play ball.

“It’s just the first step, tip of the iceberg. It’s just one company,” he said.