The Lead

Pa. counties to receive first payments from $26B opioid settlement this summer

By: - April 14, 2022 10:07 am

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith, speaks during a press conference, which discussed the need to expand our lens of focus from opioids to fighting overall substance use disorder with the increase of polysubstance and stimulant use across the commonwealth, inside Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency in Harrisburg on Monday, October 18, 2021 (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

Pennsylvania will receive $1.07 billion as part of a $26 billion national settlement with three pharmaceutical distributors, and counties should see the first round of payments to address the opioid crisis by early summer.

State officials on Wednesday delivered an update on the agreement between three of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical providers — Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen — and manufacturer Johnson & Johnson over their roles in fueling the nationwide opioid epidemic.

“These settlement funds will provide more treatment and more capacity to county and local organizations, help provide important ancillary services — like transportation for people trying to access treatment and save lives,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.

The Office of Attorney General is filing consent decrees with Commonwealth Court this week to make the settlement effective. Once those are approved, the Pennsylvania Opioid Misuse and Addiction Abatement Trust will oversee the disbursement of payments. The first payments should be made to local governments by early summer, with the second round in early fall.

The settlement aims to resolve thousands of lawsuits against the drug distributors and one manufacturer, though they have not admitted any wrongdoing. The companies faced accusations of letting addictive drugs enter illegal channels and downplaying addiction risks in their marketing.

About 90 percent of local governments nationwide joined the settlement, including all 67 counties.

The majority of funds — 70 percent — will go to counties based on the combined metrics of overdose deaths, opioid use disorder hospitalizations, naloxone administrations, and the percentage of opioid shipments. Fifteen percent will go to litigating counties, district attorneys, and special districts. And the General Assembly will distribute 15 percent to the state as a whole.

In a joint statement issued last year, the companies said they “remain deeply concerned” about the opioid crisis and its impact on communities and “remain committed to being part of the solution.”

Money from the agreement should go toward substance use disorder treatment, Naloxone — which can reverse an overdose — distribution, and community outreach programs to combat addiction.

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith said the funding will help reach “underserved individuals struggling with substance use disorder and provide necessary tools to find and complete treatment,” especially at the local level — “where change begins.”

“Counties are ultimately responsible for the delivery of the quality of drug and alcohol services to our local communities,” Butler County Commissioner Kevin Boozel said. “The attorney general and his team listened to the needs of the communities, afforded us the opportunity to make the best use of those funds on a local level, and will continue to fight against this deplorable disease.”

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, declared the opioid and heroin overdose epidemic a public health emergency in January 2018 when Pennsylvania reported a record for opioid deaths. The declaration expired in August after the Republican-controlled Legislature, with expanded emergency powers, declined a request from Wolf to extend it.

Though the Wolf administration and legislative Republicans have supported bills to make treatment more accessible and regulate the distribution and disposal of medications, overdose deaths have continued to increase, reaching a three-year high in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its limitations on in-person treatment and addiction resources, has only worsened overdose deaths, state officials have said over the last two years.

Pennsylvania reported more than 4,300 overdose deaths in 2021.

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