Local governments lining up for share of $21B opioid crisis settlement

Area counties and cities are lining up before a Friday deadline to receive a slice of a $21 billion national legal settlement with three big pharmaceutical distributors blamed for contributing to the country’s opioid crisis.

County commissions in Montgomery, Miami and Warren counties passed formal resolutions on Tuesday to join other local governments in the One Ohio plan to be eligible for part of $830 million due the state by drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Columbus-based Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp.

“There’s no amount of money that can reimburse the Miami Valley for the scourge the opiate crisis has caused us. Families have lost loved ones,” Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said. “However, if we can use these dollars to help the existing people suffering and trying to get off the drugs, and if we can use these dollars to help make the system better … this is huge for our next generation.”

Dayton city commissioners are expected to approve a similar resolution today to sign onto the agreement. Last week, Greene County commissioners officially backed the settlement deal. Measures have been passed or awaiting approval by many other local governments including Beavercreek, Centerville, Kettering, Lebanon and Springboro. The paperwork is due back to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by the end of the workweek.

Drug overdose deaths nationwide rose nearly 30% last year to an estimated 93,331, with opioids accounting for three of every four fatalities, according to preliminary Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. From 2010 to 2019, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 23,743 Ohioans, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

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In many cases, people were lured to heroin and then much-stronger fentanyl through the use of prescription opioids distributed by the three companies, Colbert said.

In July, plaintiffs in the federal opioid litigation announced the terms for the $21 billion global settlement agreement with the drug distributors, as well as a $5 billion settlement with opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. Combined, the two will bring Ohio’s total settlement funds to roughly $1.03 billion, according to the settlement agreements.

“This isn’t an antidote for this devastating crisis that killed so many, but the financial resources will provide for significant recovery in Ohio,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said.

Under the settlement formula agreed to with distributors, Montgomery County could receive an estimated maximum $11.9 million if the county meets certain criteria, Colbert said.

According to the settlement documents, localities may use the funds on drug prevention efforts, medication-assisted treatment programs and distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The money can also go to provide treatment for newborns exposed to drugs in the womb, for syringe services and to provide help for those in jails or transitioning out of the criminal justice system.

In addition to the monetary settlement, two of the distributors and Johnson & Johnson, which manufactured and marketed opioids, must also make changes to help prevent a similar crisis in the future, Yost said.

“The guardrails these companies are now required to implement will help make sure that these companies will provide a brake in the system, so that those individuals who need medication can receive it without flooding our communities,” he said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Yost launched the One Ohio plan last year as a mechanism to distribute opioid litigation settlement funds to local governments. Commitments were received from local governments representing more than 9.8 million Ohioans, or 85% of the state’s population of 11.7 million.

Under the One Ohio agreement, 11% of the state’s settlement award will be taken off the top for attorney fees and the remaining cash divvied up — 30% for local governments, 55% to a new foundation and 15% to the attorney general’s office.

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Under the current timeline, the first distributions to localities would come this fall and payments would continue to the governments each July for 18 years, Colbert said.

Montgomery County Prosecuting Attorney Mat Heck Jr. said the settlement with distributors is an important first step in holding opioid distributors accountable.

“This large settlement agreement will provide fair and substantial proceeds to the county as well as municipalities in Montgomery County, whether they had filed a separate lawsuit or not, to use to abate the damage caused by the opioid crisis,” he said.

Montgomery County continues to have lawsuits pending against opioid manufacturers, currently in bankruptcy, and pharmacies that dispensed opioids.

In March, the federal court selected five cases nationwide for trial against the pharmacy defendants as “bellwether” cases and chose Montgomery County’s case to proceed against the pharmacy defendants.

“Our lawsuit will serve as an example for the numerous cases pending against the pharmacy defendants and is yet another step that we are taking on behalf of the citizens of Montgomery County to mitigate the harm done by these companies,” Heck said.

Staff Writers Nick Blizzard and Ed Richter contributed to this report.

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