Publication date: May 17, 2019
In recent weeks, drug companies have reached their first settlements in lawsuits related to their role in the opioid crisis.
The hope, says Mark Chalos, a Nashville-based attorney who is representing municipalities in a national opioid case, is that any proceeds from opioid-related lawsuits will go toward overdose prevention and other public health programs most affected by the crisis that took more than 70,000 lives last year.
But two years ago, the state opted to place $24 million from settlements with drug wholesalers Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen into a newly-created Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention Recovery Fund.
The Oklahoma and West Virginia settlements are the first in what many believe will be a steady flow of similar activity in the coming years.
Thousands of state and local governments have filed similar litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
At least 330 opioid-related cases against drug companies are pending in lower courts in at least 45 states.
That agreement gave states $246 billion during the first 25 years of the settlement, with payments continuing thereafter.
Most of those proceeds have disappeared into state general funds, leaving just a portion left over to help defray the public health costs of smoking.
States have also used the funds for education and infrastructure projects by issuing so-called tobacco bonds, which are paid back through states’ annual tobacco settlement payments.
But since then, U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was Connecticut’s attorney general in the 1990s, told Politico he wishes that theory had been tested in court, and he hopes more guardrails are put in place on any opioid settlement.
In many cases, local officials filed their own lawsuits to avoid potential state rules on how settlements could be spent.
But the judge in the case, Dan Polster, has been pushing for a swift settlement that would include money to help treat the 2 million people the American Society of Medicine estimates are addicted to opioids, and would place restrictions on pharmaceutical companies.
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