Opioid distributors sign $808M settlement with Ohio

Ohio has an settlement agreement with three large opioid distributors that totals around $808 million.

The opioid public health crisis has cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and led to a flurry of lawsuits seeking to sort blame for the damage and loss.

The agreement includes suits against the three largest distributors of opioids — Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — which are the companies that just signed off on a settlement with the state and local governments.

“This is an historic day for Ohio,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

Yost said at a press conference Thursday afternoon that the settlement agreement includes not just money but important measures to help protect Ohioans from the “reckless distribution and opioid prescriptions that we had seen in previous years.”

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Two of the distributors and Johnson & Johnson, which manufactured and marketed opioids, must make changes to help prevent a similar crisis in the future, including new reports that need filed with the Attorney General.

Under the OneOhio agreement, 11% of the state’s settlement award goes toward attorney fees and the remaining funds break down to:

  • 55% going to a foundation created to disburse the money and fund programs that benefit Ohioans affected by opioids and/or prevent addiction;
  • 30% earmarked for community recovery programs at the local level;
  • and 15% going to the state of Ohio.

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.

The societal and financial cost of the opioid crisis has been massive. From 2010 to 2019, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 23,743 Ohioans, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

In the lead up to the settlement being finalized, local government officials said the money can’t make up for lost love ones, but can be used to help with treatment and prevention to avoid further tragedy.

The money could start coming in as soon as November. The deal still needs final ratification from all the governments who agreed to a collective deal, and Yost said he anticipates that happening.

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The historic deal was years in the making. Yost gave a nod to the some of the key figures who crafted the deal, including Jonathan Blanton, deputy attorney general for major litigation, who had been working on this before Yost was attorney general.

“He has a special affinity — a special passion — for trying to fix the mess that we find ourselves in because of this opiate epidemic,” Yost said.

Ohio previously was part of a different major public health settlement, in that case with Big Tobacco. The deal was criticized in later years when the tobacco settlement money was used to backfill other budget priorities during the Great Recession.

But there are some significant differences to how this consent decree that will be filed with the court “holds that no money goes toward potholes or bureaucrats. It’s all going to try to clean up this mess that we have from the opiate epidemic,” Yost said.