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Major milestone in historic $26 billion settlement to combat the opioid epidemic

California's cities and counties would receive more than $2 billion for drug treatment and education as part of this settlement.

SAN DIEGO — A major milestone has been achieved in the ongoing legal battle to get drug companies to pay for their part in the nation's opioid epidemic. 

Almost all cities and counties in California have now signed on to a historic $26 billion nationwide settlement.

"We are one step closer to closing this dark chapter to creating a healthier future," said California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Under the terms of this unprecedented settlement with the nation's three major pharmaceutical distributors, along with drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, California would receive more than $2 billion for drug treatment and education.

"There must be justice for what was done; accountability for the crisis," Bonta added.

It is an ongoing crisis that, according to Bonta, has claimed more than one million lives nationwide due to opioid overdoses.

Here in San Diego, fatal opioid overdoses are skyrocketing. Data from the county medical examiner's office show that overdoses from the highly dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl more than quadrupled from 2018 to 2020, with at least 446 San Diegans dying in 2020 with fentanyl in their system.

Those deaths have continued to increase during the pandemic.

"People are dealing with isolation, loneliness, depression," said Gretchen Burns Bergman, co-founder of A New Path in San Diego, a nonprofit for families which advocates for drug education and treatment over punishment and incarceration. 

She said that while is welcoming the prospect of this funding for drug treatment and education to combat the opioid epidemic, she has one crucial question: "Will this money come to the people who need it the most?"

Burns Bergman pointed out that, often, those who need help the most are unsheltered and unable to access services.

"Money tends to get caught up in red tape and bureaucracy, rather than go to the person on the street," she told CBS 8. 

Still, Burns Bergman remains optimistic.

"The money can help if it is used in the right way," she said, 

The companies involved in this lawsuit have one month to decide whether to move forward with this settlement. If they move forward, payments would start to be distributed to California and other participating states in April. 

WATCH RELATED: Countywide opioid summit for teens  - Dec. 2021

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