Careful to declare that “no amount of money will ever be enough,” N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced this week that North Carolina had signed onto a $26 billion nationwide agreement that would settle lawsuits against several producers and distributors of opioids.
When finalized, North Carolina could receive as much as $750 million, money that would be divided among the state, its 100 counties and some municipalities.
“This settlement will force these drug companies to pay a historic amount of money to bring much-needed treatment and recovery services to North Carolina communities and to change their business practices so that something like this never happens again,” Stein said in a news release.
Stein’s office said that from 2000 to 2019 more than 16,500 North Carolina residents died from opioid overdoses. More than five people die of opioid overdoses each day, the news release said, adding that many more had seen their lives torn apart and damage has been caused to their families, friends and broader communities.
In 2017, New Hanover County sued a group of opioid manufacturers and distributors, saying they had violated federal and state laws and helped create a serious public health and safety crisis.
“New Hanover County proactively joined the opioid lawsuit back in 2017 because of the devastating impact of the opioid crisis on our community, fueled by these drug manufacturers and distributors,” New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said Thursday.
“The settlement announced Wednesday has the potential to bring millions of dollars directly into New Hanover County over 18 years to help combat the opioid epidemic and provide the help our residents need,” she added.
Brunswick County filed a similar lawsuit.
When it appeared that a national settlement would be reached, Stein’s office proposed a Memorandum of Agreement
to pool together the state’s counties and municipalities that filed similar suits.
The agreement governs how North Carolina would use the proceeds from this or any other national settlement or bankruptcy with the major companies over their role in the opioid epidemic.
The companies involved in this week’s settlement with the group of state attorneys general were drug distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen; and opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. Purdue Pharma, initially listed in the suit, is now in bankruptcy proceedings.
States have 30 days to sign on to the deal, while local governments have 150 days to weigh it.
Of the total $26 billion settlement, $24 billion would be available to state and local governments, with the requirement that they are used for opioid remediation efforts. The remaining $2 billion would be available to compensate the private attorneys who represented governments across the country. To be eligible for payments from the settlement, the attorneys must agree to waive contingent-fee contracts they had with local or state governments.
Although most North Carolina counties and municipalities did not file lawsuits, the Memorandum of Agreement lays out a formula to divide the share of the settlement money statewide. By the state signing the agreement, local governments are eligible to participate in the settlement. They must, however, sign onto the Memorandum of Agreement. As of Thursday, 53 counties and municipalities had joined. In the Wilmington area, New Hanover County is the only government so far to sign on.
Local governments will receive maximum payments if they join together in support of the settlement. The more counties and municipalities, the more the entire state will receive in total.
If all of the state’s counties and eligible municipalities join the Memorandum of Agreement, North Carolina would receive about $750 million. New Hanover County could receive more than $20 million, Brunswick, $15 million; and Wilmington about $2 million.
“I strongly urge other counties and municipalities throughout our state to sign onto this MOA as well so that local communities who have borne the brunt of the epidemic can receive the majority of these funds to help our residents with the services and resources they need here at home,” Olson-Boseman said.
The opioid crisis spurred New Hanover County to build The Healing Place, a peer-led residential drug and alcohol recovery facility on Medical Center Drive. Construction began in February and is expected to be completed next May.
It will be the only peer-led residential recovery program in Southeastern North Carolina to provide treatment to both men and women at no cost to the individual.
The 200-bed, $25 million facility will consist of five buildings: Administration and Education, Dining and Shelter, Men’s Residential, Women’s Residential and Detox.
Once construction is complete, the county will own the buildings and be responsible for long-term maintenance. The Healing Place of Louisville, Kentucky will establish a new 501(c)3 that will then fully manage and operate the facility, including all operating costs.
New Hanover County will also provide funding for 50 beds each year (25 for men, 25 for women) as part of the county’s budget.