Carroll County commissioners have agreed to execute an agreement that may result in a direct payment of $3.5 million to the county for use in opioid abatement.
In 2019, the county government filed suit against certain manufacturers and distributors of opioid prescription drugs, asserting that the companies heavily promoted opioids, made misleading claims about their addictiveness and enabled an illegal market to emerge. Hundreds of other local governments and most states also filed lawsuits against the opioids manufacturers and distributors.
At the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Thursday, the board’s in-house counsel Tim Burke told commissioners that a settlement was reached in July 2021 to resolve all opioid litigation brought by states and localities against four of the largest pharmaceutical distributors: Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and its parent company Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen.
Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $5 billion across nine years, with an initial payment to states of $3.7 billion due within three years. Other defendants agreed to pay $21 billion stretched across 18 years.
Court documents cite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that shows the number of prescriptions dispensed for opioid medications per 100 people in Carroll County outstripped the national average between 2009 and 2019 and exceeded the overall numbers for Maryland as well. In 2006, 60.1 opioid prescriptions were dispensed per 100 people in Maryland; in Carroll County, the number was 64.2 prescriptions per 100.
Initially, Burke said, states were slated to receive 70% of the funds with 30% going to counties and towns “for us to fight over.” Counties and towns would also have the opportunity to apply for state grants but “not necessarily receive them,” Burke said.
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“You will recall the Maryland attorney general signed onto that nationwide agreement and presented us a few months ago with a memorandum of understanding with regard to the allocation of the settlement funds to the state and participating local counties and towns,” Burke said. “The arrangement was not particularly attractive from the standpoint of the local governments.”
Thanks to efforts of the Maryland Municipal League, Maryland Association of Counties, outside counsel and some other county attorneys, a more palatable arrangement has been presented, Burke said, allowing 30% of settlement funds to go to states and 70% to be distributed to participating counties and towns.
“We can use those funds for future opioid abatement and some can be applied to prior opioid abatement efforts,” he said. “There is a complicated formula for distributing the funds … and it requires participation from all the counties and towns in the state that were parties of the lawsuit. We’re not quite there yet, although most have signed on.”
Burke said Carroll County could receive a direct payment of $3.5 million and be eligible for non-competitive grants for abatement funds up to $6.1 million.
“This is not the end of the litigation,” Burke said. “There are other defendants to be dealt with, but this would resolve a large chunk of it. It’s not the best settlement in the world, but it’s the best we’re going to get.”