Opioid settlement: $800 million Ohio plan avoids collapse as cities, counties sign on

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Local governments have signed up for part of a $21 billion nationwide settlement with three pharmaceutical distributors blamed for contributing to the country’s

But two large holdouts could bring down amounts expected by area governments.

On the verge of collapse last week, a plan for Ohio’s cities, counties, townships and villages to collectively pursue part of a $21 billion national opioid settlement has been shored up with enough of the state’s political subdivisions now signed up for the effort. But two holdouts could still lower the amount local jurisdictions ultimately receive.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost extended a deadline by a week until this Friday and implored local officials to join the One Ohio agreement that is set to bring the state up to $808 million in settlement funds from three big pharmaceutical distributors blamed for contributing to the country’s opioid crisis.

As of last Friday, just 86% of the state’s litigating political subdivisions had joined the One Ohio settlement agreement, according to Yost. The deal required the support of local governments representing at least 95% of the state’s population, a threshold surpassed this week.

“This overwhelming level of support from local leaders is a victory for collaboration and communication statewide,” Yost said. “Communities across Ohio are clearly seeing that we’re in this together; they know it’s a time for ‘we,’ not ‘me.’”

But two holdouts among large litigating political subdivisions — the city of Cincinnati and Scioto County — had yet to join by Wednesday. Their lack of participation could ratchet back the amount other jurisdictions receive, according to the attorney general’s office.

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

Six area counties and more than two dozen villages, cities and townships with populations above 10,000 within them stand to get as much as $24.4 million for drug prevention, treatment and education programs through the nationwide settlement with drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Columbus-based Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp.

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.

Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said no amount of money can replace loved ones lost to the opioid crisis “but if we can take these dollars and invest them to help people with treatment, help people with the services that they need and education from a prevention standpoint … then I think we can make a difference with these dollars.”

People often turned to heroin and more lethal fentanyl after getting hooked on prescription opioids distributed by the three pharmaceutical companies, Colbert said.

With 100% participation, Montgomery County could receive an estimated $10.4 million, according to an attorney general’s office estimate.

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.

ExploreOhio opioid overdose deaths at 10-year high at start of pandemic

Under the One Ohio agreement, 11% of the state’s settlement award goes toward attorney fees and the remaining funds divvied up — 30% for local governments, 55% to a new foundation and 15% to the attorney general’s office.

The 30% of funding set aside for townships, villages, cities and counties would be distributed based on a population formula. More will flow to communities through foundation spending, according to the state.

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, Ohio’s portion of settlement funds total roughly $1.03 billion before attorneys’ fees, according to the settlement agreements.

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. The more political subdivisions that sign on, the more money the state will be in line for, according to Yost.

“It’s important that we continue to urge the holdouts to sign on by Friday,” Yost said.

NOTE: An earlier headline on the story had the wrong amount for the settlement.