Summit County stands to receive chunk of a $26B opioid settlement. But the fate of the deal is up in the air.
The agreement, and payout amounts, hinge on whether governments across the country join the settlement
For The Park Record
Four pharmaceutical companies agreed months ago to a $26 billion nationwide settlement that would end thousands of lawsuits accusing them of fueling an opioid addiction crisis, but the state and local governments that sued them, including Summit County, still have to wait for the money.
The timing and amount of the payments — and whether the deal ultimately goes through — depend on a number of pieces falling into place.
The local governments that sued distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen and pharmaceutical company Sampson Pharmaceutical, with its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, must decide by Jan. 26 whether to join in the deal and drop their lawsuits.
Then, the pharmaceutical defendants have until Feb. 25 to decide whether enough local governments with pending claims are participating. If not, they could decline to move ahead with the settlement.
The defendants are not admitting liability or wrongdoing.
“If there is not critical mass, then the deal will fall through,” said Walter Mason, an attorney with Dewsnup King Olsen Worel Havas Mortensen Milne, who is representing Summit County in the case.
Forty-four states, including Utah, have joined the agreement. Certain non-litigating government subdivisions, primarily cities with a population over 10,000, also can opt in.
A July news release from the Utah Attorney General’s Office announcing the settlement said the state’s portion was 1.1889%, or $309 million to be paid over 18 years. A substantial majority of the money is to be spent on the treatment and prevention of opioid addiction.
However, that amount has since dropped. Under the agreement, the share that entities get includes incentive payments, which require participation from local governments. Five of the state’s 29 counties have said they are handling their cases themselves, which lowers the payout.
“A lot of things are up in the air,” Mason said. “It’s not known what the per-county payments will be.”
Thousands of suits have been filed in state and federal courts in the nation alleging manufacturers and distributors over-prescribed and dispensed opioids and downplayed the danger of addiction.
In March 2018, Summit County became the first county in Utah to file a lawsuit against some of the country’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors, claiming deceptive and misleading marketing campaigns led to the national opioid epidemic.
The suit, which is seeking an unspecified amount of money in damages, alleges corporate greed caused the companies to put their desire for profits above the health, well-being, and safety of Summit County residents.
Named as defendants were 25 businesses and individuals from nine major opioid manufacturers and distributors. Summit County later added dozens of additional defendants to the suit after the release of additional information from a Drug Enforcement Administration database.
The data showed that from 2006 to 2012, more than a million pills a year were distributed to Summit County, enough for approximately 24 pills per year for every resident, County Attorney Margaret Olson said.
The suit was filed in Summit County’s 3rd District Court by the three firms retained to represent the county: Napoli Shkolnik PLLC; Dewsnup King Olsen Worel Havas Mortensen Milne; and Magleby Cataxinos & Greenwood. Napoli Shkolnik, which represents numerous counties across the country in similar suits, is based in New York City and the other two firms are in Salt Lake City.
The law firms are working on a contingency basis and will be paid only if the county is awarded money in the lawsuit. The settlement terms were negotiated by the National Prescription Opioid Litigation Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee (PEC) on behalf of more than 3,000 communities.
An original deadline of Jan. 2 to join the settlement was extended because the rise in COVID cases made many public entities cancel their December meetings, according to a statement on nationalopioidsettlement.com. In addition, some local governments were not moving forward because they didn’t have an agreement with their state on how the money will be allocated, the statement says.
PEC is optimistic that enough counties, cities and towns will opt in for the deal to go through.
“Communities throughout the country have been signing on to the settlements by the thousands,” PEC said in a December news release. “More than 20 states already have reached allocations agreements with their cities and counties and many more are finalizing agreements.”
When the deadline was Jan. 2, the PEC negotiation team said communities could receive funds as early as April 2022, depending on when a settling state met certain requirements. There is no new estimate on when the money will start being distributed.
Even if the settlement goes through, plaintiffs — including Summit County — likely will continue to pursue their claims against non-settling defendants named in their suits. If they go to trial, the Salt Lake, Davis, Grand and Washington counties’ cases would go first.
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