Drug distributors, J&J reach landmark $26 bln opioid settlement

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A group of state attorneys general unveiled on Wednesday a landmark, $26 billion settlement resolving claims that the three largest U.S. drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson helped fuel a deadly nationwide opioid epidemic.

Under the settlement proposal, distributors McKesson Corp , Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp are expected to pay a combined $21 billion, while Johnson & Johnson would pay $5 billion.

The money from the distributors will be paid out over the next 18 years. J&J will pay over nine years, with up to $3.7 billion paid during the first three years.

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The distributors were accused of lax controls that allowed massive amounts of addictive painkillers to be diverted into illegal channels, devastating communities, while J&J was accused of downplaying the addiction risk in its opioid marketing.

The companies have denied the allegations.

The settlement also calls for the creation of an independent clearinghouse to provide all three distributors and state regulators aggregated data about where drugs are going and how often, a tool negotiators hope will help reduce pills being over shipped to communities. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Additional reporting by Brendan Pierson and Tom Hals; Editing by Bill Berkrot)