Butler County jurisdictions could split $47.5 million if the state of Ohio successfully settles a $1 billion lawsuit with the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic.
Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost are getting close to a deal with local governments to form a united front, dubbed One Ohio, for negotiating a massive settlement with the pharmaceutical industry over its role in the opioid crisis that has devastated the state.
Butler County, Fairfield, Hamilton and Middletown are among 2,600-plus governmental entities that sued the drug companies and distributors, but under a proposed settlement agreement every local jurisdiction within the county and state would get piece of the settlement.
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The state released a proposed distribution breakdown that shows the county government could get the largest share at $24.4 million, and Jacksonburg would receive the smallest with $2,610. The now-defunct village of Somerville was also on the list with $1,469. The largest cities, Hamilton and Middletown, where the epidemic has been most devastating, would receive $6.1 million and $5.2 million respectively.
The Butler County commissioners are hoping that if the settlement comes to fruition the jurisdictions would agree to work in concert using the money to create county-wide efforts to battle opioids and overdoses. Kathy Becker, a well-known area advocate for multiple public interest causes, said recently that money awards and grants can cause communities to decrease collaboration.
“If there’s anything that drives me nuts, it’s the turf wars that develop, and with money comes more intensive turf wars,” Becker said. “When there’s no money, then it’s different, people will say, ‘OK, I’ll help out.’ But as soon as that money comes, it’s like, ‘I’m going to be at the forefront and I want the money.’ It changes the face of people working together.”
The Ohio settlement distribution numbers were formulated using the National Opiates Litigation model, according to Bethany McCorkle, Yost’s communications director. The calculation includes the number of opioid-involved deaths, the number of opioids shipped to a county and the number of opioid addicts.
“We need not to waste it, I think we need to be coordinated throughout the county,” said Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon.
“Whenever you’re in a governmental area you’re going to have that issue (of non-collaboration), we deal with it every day. I’m pretty confident we can come up with a plan that even though they’ll be spending that amount of money, it can be spent in their area, it can be a comprehensive plan and it builds off of different segments of services.”
The proposed funds must be used to expand substance abuse treatment, fund prevention efforts and battle oversupply of opioids, according to state documents.
The Journal-News contacted jurisdictions in the county asking about a collaborative approach, and all who responded said they are open to contributing.
“We need to analyze and discuss further,” Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said. “But we will certainly work collaboratively with the county to find solutions that help our residents.”
West Chester Twp. would receive $3.4 million in the proposed plan. Trustee Mark Welch said as long as everyone who wants a seat at the discussion table will have a voice, he supports collaboration, but he wants to make sure his township gets what it needs.
“Working together there’s strength in numbers, we can get a synergy there,” Welch said.
Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell, whose community would receive $1 million, had no reservations about a joint effort.
“We would like to work collaboratively with them to find out what is the best way to stop this epidemic or decrease it,” Farrell said. “And where the money can be put in. All along we’ve been told education, education, education, I would anticipate some of the money going into education because that’s the only way you’re going to stop it long-term.”
Others, like Fairfield, Fairfield Twp. and Middletown, said it is too soon to talk about the future of a settlement that isn’t finalized.
“We’re taking a wait-and-see approach in Fairfield,” City Manager Mark Wendling said of his city’s potential $2.6 million payout. “Since things aren’t settled yet, we just don’t want to make any assumptions at this point about a comprehensive plan for the money.”
Oxford Twp., a community of about 3,000, would receive $1 million. That’s the same as Liberty Twp. and Monroe, which have populations of 40,000 and 12,500 respectively.
Police Chief Michael Goins said population numbers can be deceiving, considering all the people traveling through the township to and from Miami University.
“We actually had to add onto our property room for all the heroin, crack, opiates, we’ve completely run out of space,” Goins said. “It’s almost like you used to catch kids drinking beer all the time, now everybody’s got drugs.”
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser has been involved in discussions at the state level about the settlement, and he said the Oxford Twp. amount is an example of why he isn’t pleased with the proposed settlement breakdown.
Under the One Ohio agreement, 11 percent would pay attorney fees and the remaining cash would be divvied up — 30 percent for local governments, 55 percent to a new foundation that will decide future distributions and 15 percent to the attorney general’s office.
Gmoser said there are flaws with the way the settlement has been “cobbled together,” but he still wants the county to join the state effort.
“You become a weaker voice in this type of a situation when you go it alone,” Gmoser said. “At this point, I think it’s like a school of fish, there’s safety in numbers. I think we have a better shot at getting a better result by keeping a unified effort.”