NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has made it a point to hold companies accountable for contributing to the opioid epidemic.
“There are lawsuits against not every entity yet, but we’re working our way through the list,” Skrmetti said.
The state has received $128 million from the initial settlement payments with three national pharmaceutical distributors and Johnson & Johnson, with five new settlement agreements in the works.
The money is being placed in the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Trust Fund. To date, more than $90 million has been added.
“Most of the money that we’re getting is going to that trust fund, and it can exclusively be used for the purpose of abating the opioid crisis,” explained Skrmetti. “That means money to drug courts. That means money to treatment facilities. It means money for educational projects. It means money to medical facilities.”
Fifteen percent of the settlement money goes directly to local governments.
“It’s up to the local governments how they spend that. They should be spending it on opioid abatement,” Skrmetti said. “They should be spending it to help their people who are suffering as a result of the opioid epidemic and its impact on crime and public health.”
Skrmetti explains an Opioid Abatement Council has been appointed by various state leaders to act as the gatekeeper to the funds.
“It includes medical experts, law enforcement experts, mental health experts, and they review the applications and they’re going to distribute the money based on where they think it can be most effectively used,” he explained.
The attorney general attributes the continued growth in overdose deaths to the opioid crisis that hooked so many Tennesseans.
“It absolutely created a bridge to fentanyl. Originally, it was to heroin,” Skrmetti said. “This is a problem that’s taken decades to build up and it’s going to take decades, probably generations, to undo the damage.”
Several settlements have very long terms, which means these payouts will fund the trust for more than a decade.