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Idaho cities, counties sign onto national opioid settlements

Each of Idaho’s 44 counties and all 24 eligible cities will participate in national opioid settlements, potentially bringing $119 million to the state, Republican Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said.

He said the counties and cities agreed to sign onto the $26 billion settlements involving the three biggest U.S. drug distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. The money would address damage wrought by opioids, which the federal government declared a public health emergency in 2017.

Wasden and Gov. Brad Little in August announced that the state would accept the agreement and become eligible for a minimum of $64 million. The state’s participation opened the way for local government entities to take part, and all those eligible have now done so, boosting the amount of money potentially coming to Idaho to about $119 million.

“This level of participation shows the strong commitment of both the state and local governments to work together to obtain the most money to fight the opioid epidemic in Idaho,” Wasden said in a statement.

The Idaho Drug Overdose Prevention Program, established in 2016 to increase awareness of opioid use and prevent overdoses, said opioid overdose deaths have generally been trending upward the last several decades, increasing from just over 20 deaths a year in 2000 to 123 in 2016 and 116 in 2017.

“The opioid crisis is taking lives and destroying families in Idaho,” Little said in June 2019 when he signed an executive order to combat opioid and substance misuse by establishing the Opioid Advisory Group to examine strategies.

The deadline nationally for local governments to accept the agreements is Jan. 26, and enough must sign up for the settlements to take effect. An announcement in February is expected about whether the threshold has been met, Wasden said. If it is met, participants could see their first payments in April.

By signing onto the national settlement, government entities agree to forego lawsuits of their own against Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

For Idaho, the Johnson & Johnson payment of $22 million would be spread out over nine years. The $98 million payment from the drug distributors would be spread over 18 years.

According to the agreement, 40% of the money would go to participating counties and cities, with another 20% going to regional public health districts.

The remaining 40% would go to the state-directed opioid settlement fund, created by lawmakers earlier this year and signed into law by Little. The Idaho Legislature would appropriate money from the fund based on recommendations by the Idaho Behavioral Health Council, which is part of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The settlement agreements, beside the payments, include increased accountability and oversight for the drug companies, changes in how prescriptions are distributed and sold, independent monitoring, a national database to help stop deliveries of opioids to pharmacies where misuse is occurring, and a ban on Johnson & Johnson from selling or promoting opioids.

A settlement has not been reached with Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin and the company most closely associated with opioids.

A federal judge earlier this month rejected Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement of thousands of lawsuits over the opioid epidemic because of a provision that would protect members of the billionaire Sackler family, which own the company, from facing opioid-related civil lawsuits.

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