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UPDATE 2-Nevada to join $26 bln opioid settlement with drug distributors, J&J

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(New throughout, adds comment from J&J)

By Nate Raymond

Jan 4 (Reuters) - Nevada has agreed to back a proposed nationwide settlement worth up to $26 billion resolving lawsuits against three large drug distributors and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson over the deadly U.S. opioid epidemic, the state's attorney general said on Tuesday.

Nevada was among a handful of states that until now was not participating in the landmark agreements to resolve thousands of opioid lawsuits against J&J, McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp and Cardinal Health Inc .

The settlement's backers had agreed to extend to Jan. 26 a deadline for cities and counties in states that backed the proposal to opt-in to the settlements, citing the potential for more states to join.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said he was optimistic the state's local governments would join the settlements, allowing Nevada to receive more than $285 million.

"There is no question that the opioid epidemic has devastated Nevada and money is needed now to address comprehensive statewide remediation," he said in a statement.

J&J said it agreed to a $63 million settlement with Nevada consistent with its proposal to pay up to $5 billion to resolve cases against it nationally.

AmerisourceBergen and McKesson declined to comment. Cardinal Health did not respond to requests for comment.

More than 3,300 lawsuits largely by state and local governments are pending seeking to hold those and other companies responsible for an opioid abuse crisis that led to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths over two decades.

The companies deny wrongdoing.

The distributors said in September that 42 states, five territories and Washington, D.C., had agreed to participate in their $21 billion settlement. A similar number backed J&J's proposal.

The extent state and local governments participate will shape how much the companies ultimately must pay and how much outstanding litigation they face. New Mexico, another holdout state, on Dec. 7 signed on. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Leslie Adler, Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

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