cloudyn.png
Tuesday August 3rd, 2021 11:41PM

Experts: Spend opioid settlement funds on fighting opioids

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

As a $26 billion settlement over the toll of opioids looms, some public health experts are citing the 1998 agreement with tobacco companies as a cautionary tale of runaway government spending and missed opportunities for saving more lives.

Mere fractions of the $200 billion-plus tobacco settlement have gone toward preventing smoking and helping people quit in many states. Instead, much of the money has helped to balance state budgets, lay fiber-optic cable and repair roads.

And while the settlement was a success in many ways — smoking rates have dropped significantly — cigarettes are still blamed for more than 480,000 American deaths a year.

“We saw a lot of those dollars being spent in ways that didn’t help the population that had been harmed by tobacco,” said Bradley D. Stein, director of the RAND Corporation’s Opioid Policy Center. “And I think it’s critical that the opioid settlement dollars are spent wisely.”

Lawyers for states and local governments and the companies laid out key details of the settlement on Wednesday and said there are provision to make sure the money is used as intended.

The deal calls for the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to pay up to $5 billion, in addition to billions more from the major national drug distribution companies. AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health are each to contribute $6.4 billion. McKesson is to pay $7.9 billion.

Nearly $2 billion of the funds would be reserved for private lawyers who were hired by governments to work on their suits against the industry. State attorney general offices could also keep some of the money.

States — except West Virginia, which has already settled with the companies but could receive more through the deal — will have 30 days to approve the agreements. After that, local governments will have four months to sign on. Each company will decide whether enough jurisdictions agree to the deal to move ahead with it. The more governments sign on, the more the companies will pay.

“While the companies strongly dispute the allegations made in these lawsuits, they believe the proposed settlement agreement and settlement process it establishes ... are important steps toward achieving broad resolution of governmental opioid claims and delivering meaningful relief to communities across the United States,” the distribution companies said in a statement.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said it would be the second-biggest cash settlement of its kind in U.S. history behind the tobacco deal in the 1990s.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said the opioid agreement requires state and local governments to use the vast majority of the money on abatement — and that will be subject to a court order. The deal calls for at least 70% of the money to go to a list of abatement activities such as providing naloxone, a drug that reverses overdoses; helping house homeless people with addictions; or educating the public on the dangers of the drugs, among many other possibilities.

“We all are experiencing the consequences in communities across North Carolina, across the country,” Stein said on a video news conference Wednesday.

Not every state is ready to agree. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he would reject the deal as “insufficient” and move ahead with a trial on claims against the distributors scheduled to start in September.

Grant Woods, a former Arizona Attorney General who’s been involved in both the tobacco and opioid lawsuits, said the difference this time is that “everybody wants this money to go towards opioids and abatement around the country”

The deal would be part of the ongoing effort to address the nationwide opioid addiction and overdose crisis. Prescription drugs and illegal ones like heroin and illicitly produced fentanyl have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000. The number of cases reached a record high in 2020.

If approved, the settlement will likely be the largest of many in the opioid litigation playing out nationwide. It's expected to bring more than $23 billion to abatement and mitigation efforts to help get treatment for people who are addicted along with other programs to address the crisis. The money would come in 18 annual payments, with the biggest amounts in the next several years.

This is likely to be the biggest group of settlements, but other companies, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, generic drugmaker Mallinckrodt and the consulting firm McKinsey have all reached or nearly reached national settlements over opioids, too. Some drugmakers, smaller distributors and pharmacy companies are still being sued by thousands of government entities.

A group of advocacy organizations, public health experts and others are pushing for governments to sign on to a set of principles for how settlement money should be used. They include establishing a dedicated fund for combating the epidemic with the settlement money and making sure that it doesn't just replace other funding streams in the budget.

The group has pointed out that many state and local governments have already made cuts to substance use and behavioral health programs because of economic downturn wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. And government officials may be tempted to fill holes in budgets with the money.

Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it's crucial that the money is spent to combat the opioid scourge because the overdose epidemic is raging.

Last year, there were a record 93,000 fatal overdoses from all drugs in the U.S. The majority of them involved fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that has medical uses but is also produced illicitly.

“Everybody is both excited and a little worried,” Sharfstein said of the expected funds, “a little worried that they may be squandered.”

Paul Geller, a lawyer representing local governments, said the structure of the settlement ensures the money will be used as intended.

“It won’t be used to fill potholes or build libraries or balance budgets,” Geller said.

Those are the kind of things that a significant portion of the tobacco settlement money has been spent on, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which tracks the money.

Campaign President Matthew L. Myers said the tobacco settlement is “one of the greatest missed public health opportunities of our lifetime.”

“We would have saved massively more lives,” he said if more money was spent on cessation and prevention.

The settlement was the result of states wanting to recoup healthcare costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses, while alleging the industry misled the public.

Joelle Lester, director of commercial tobacco control programs at the Public Health Law Center in Minnesota, said the tobacco settlement was “both a huge success and a cautionary tale.”

It led to rising cigarette prices, which caused smoking rates to drop. Marketing, particularly to kids, was curtailed. And adult smoking fell from 24.1% in 1998 to 13.7% in 2018, according to the American Lung Association.

But the money that was diverted could still have made a bigger difference, she said.

“The folks negotiating these settlements have to keep their focus on the destruction to health and communities caused,” she said of industry settlements in general. “Every element of the settlement should either try to remediate the harm caused or prevent it from continuing.”

___

Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia, and Mulvihill from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Health, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Experts: Spend opioid settlement funds on fighting opioids
Public health experts are citing the 1998 settlement agreement with tobacco companies as a cautionary tale ahead of the expected $26 billion settlement with opioid producers
5:31PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Federal judge blocks Arkansas trans youth treatment ban
A federal judge has temporarily blocked Arkansas' ban on gender confirming treatments for transgender youth while a lawsuit challenging the prohibition proceeds
5:15PM ( 20 minutes ago )
COVID-19 cases in US triple over 2 weeks amid misinformation
COVID-19 cases have tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation
4:35PM ( 1 hour ago )
U.S. News
Pharmacist in meningitis outbreak gets more prison time
A former Massachusetts pharmacist convicted for his role in a deadly 2012 multistate meningitis outbreak will spend more time behind bars
5:18PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Dems hit McConnell, who says GOP won't back debt limit boost
Senate Democrats are accusing Republicans of a cynical ploy that would damage the government’s credit rating and the economy
4:38PM ( 58 minutes ago )
Young nucleus intact, Suns wait to see if Chris Paul returns
Chris Paul took a risk this season deciding that a young, unproven Phoenix Suns team was worth joining in his pursuit of his first NBA championship
4:30PM ( 1 hour ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Stocks climb on Wall Street as more company earnings roll in
Stocks closed higher again on Wall Street, extending their gains following a sharp drop at the beginning of the week
4:07PM ( 1 hour ago )
Agency pledges tough action to buttress 'right to repair'
Federal regulators are moving to give consumers freedom to repair their broken cellphones, computers, videogame consoles and even tractors themselves, or to use independent repair shops
3:53PM ( 1 hour ago )
Russia launches lab module to International Space Station
Russia has successfully launched a long-delayed lab module for the International Space Station
3:04PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
Couple in eBay harassment case sues company, ex-officials
A Massachusetts couple subjected to threats and other bizarre harassment from former eBay Inc. employees have filed a civil lawsuit against the Silicon Valley giant
1:00PM ( 4 hours ago )
Coke sales surge in Q2 as re-openings gain momentum
Coca-Cola's sales are rebounding faster than expected as the impact of the pandemic abates
11:55AM ( 5 hours ago )
Stocks start higher on Wall Street as more earnings roll in
Stocks are opening higher on Wall Street as the market continues to recover from a sharp drop at the beginning of the week
9:46AM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Federal judge blocks Arkansas trans youth treatment ban
A federal judge has temporarily blocked Arkansas' ban on gender confirming treatments for transgender youth while a lawsuit challenging the prohibition proceeds
5:15PM ( 21 minutes ago )
COVID-19 cases in US triple over 2 weeks amid misinformation
COVID-19 cases have tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation
4:35PM ( 1 hour ago )
Hugs as California public school returns to class in person
One of the first public schools in California has opened fully to in-person learning, a major milestone in the state's fight to return to normalcy
4:30PM ( 1 hour ago )
Rare 'breakthrough' COVID cases are causing alarm, confusion
While reports of athletes, lawmakers and others occasionally getting the coronavirus despite vaccination may sound alarming, top health experts point to overwhelming evidence that the shots dramatically reduce severe disease and death
4:20PM ( 1 hour ago )
Wildfires in US West blowing 'so much smoke' into East Coast
Smoke and ash from massive wildfires in the American West have clouded the sky and led to air quality alerts on parts of the East Coast
4:05PM ( 1 hour ago )