Minnesota's $296 million opioid settlement will start arriving soon

Minnesota's share of the nationwide settlement against opioid companies - reached after a years-long legal fight as overdose deaths increased - will start flowing in July, state officials said.

Minnesota stands to get an estimated $296 million from lawsuits against a handful of companies. Under a 75% to 25% framework approved by the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz in May, counties and larger cities will split $222 million for treatment programs and prevention efforts, while the state will get the rest.

"With this new law, we’re making sure these dollars go where the pain is," Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, told reporters.

Ellison, Gov. Tim Walz, lawmakers in both political parties and opioid treatment advocates gathered in the state Capitol for a Tuesday afternoon celebration of the month-old settlement framework.

The money from three opioid distributors and manufacturer Johnson & Johnson will arrive over the next 18 years. More is likely from drugmakers Perdue Pharmaceuticals and Mallinckrodt, though the two companies' bankruptcy proceedings are not finalized, Assistant Attorney General Eric Maloney said.

State officials said they agreed to push 75% of the settlement proceeds to cities and counties because local health departments would know best how to spend it. The state has set up a series of regulations on spending.

More than 5,000 Minnesotans have died from overdoses since the year 2000, including a record 678 people in 2020, according to state data. The Minnesota Department of Health has not made 2021's numbers public, but two stakeholders said at Tuesday's news conference that they would show yet another increase.

"This will be decades to come to clean this up," said Lexi Reed Holtum, the state's opioid response director. Reed Holtum became involved in activism in 2011 after the overdose death of her fiancé, Steve Rummler. "While $300 million sounds like a lot of money, it is not. It is nowhere near enough."

The issue has touched the Legislature, where two lawmakers have had children die from overdoses. One was the daughter of state Sen. Chris Eaton, who said she was thankful that all sides agreed to the framework.

"The only regret I have about this settlement is that nobody went to jail," said Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center. "I do have a little bitterness toward the opioid manufacturers and distributors, but I’m so grateful for the way Minnesota has stepped up."

After state officials came up with the 75% to 25% framework last fall, 230 municipalities signed onto the agreement to maximize Minnesota's settlement dollars.

Ellison acknowledged criticism that states like Minnesota should've held out for more.

"Whenever you settle a case, you don’t get every single thing you ever wanted. That’s the essence of compromise," he said. "What we get is resources sooner rather than later. What they [the opioid companies] got is finality, and that’s what they wanted, to make sure the litigation was over."