The Lead

Pa. poised to see $1B from national opioid settlement, with all 67 counties signing on

By: - January 27, 2022 10:19 am

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Glenn O. Hawbaker will pay more than $20 million in restitution for stealing from workers (Screenshot).

Every Pennsylvania county has signed onto a settlement that’s expected to bring in $1 billion — potentially as soon as this spring — to address the opioid crisis, the state’s top prosecutor announced Thursday morning.

By the Wednesday night deadline, all 67 counties, including 241 local governments, opted to join the $26 billion opioid agreement with three of the country’s largest pharmaceutical providers — Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen — and manufacturer Johnson & Johnson over their role in fueling the nationwide opioid crisis.

“With this landmark support, Pennsylvania is on track to receive the full $1.07 billion, with funding beginning to flow into our communities as early as April to jumpstart programs and ramp up staffing to save the lives of those struggling with opioid addiction,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.

The $26 billion national settlement aims to resolve thousands of lawsuits against the drug distributors and one manufacturer, though they have not admitted any wrongdoing. The companies faced accusations of letting addictive drugs enter illegal channels and downplaying addiction risks in their marketing.

About 90 percent of local governments nationwide joined the settlement, and the companies have until Feb. 25 to decide whether to proceed with the agreement, Reuters reported.

In a joint statement issued last month, the companies said they “remain deeply concerned” about the opioid crisis and its impact on communities and added that they “remain committed to being part of the solution.”

Money from the agreement should go toward substance use disorder treatment, Naloxone — which can reverse an overdose — distribution, and community outreach programs to combat addiction.

“This agreement marks the most significant influx of resources to our commonwealth to address this epidemic, jet-fueled by greedy pharmaceutical companies,” Shapiro said. “Our work here is not done — this settlement is only with three distributors and Johnson & Johnson. There are more companies and executives who will pay for what was done in Pennsylvania.”

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, declared the opioid and heroin overdose epidemic a public health emergency in January 2018 when Pennsylvania reported a record for opioid deaths. The declaration expired in August after the Republican-controlled Legislature, with expanded emergency powers, declined a request from Wolf to extend it.

Though the Wolf administration and legislative Republicans have supported bills to make treatment more accessible and regulate the distribution and disposal of medications, overdose deaths have continued to increase, reaching a three-year high in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its limitations on in-person treatment and addiction resources, has only worsened overdose deaths, state officials have said over the last two years.

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