NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Ongoing litigation with three major pharmaceutical companies officially ended last week in a $26 billion settlement to be used for the treatment of the opioid epidemic. New Hanover County will receive $18.4 million out of the $750 million allocated to North Carolina.
In 2017, Attorney General Josh Stein sued Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen for their roles in creating and fueling the opioid crisis. In 2018, Stein also sued drug maker Perdue Pharma, which resulted in the company’s bankruptcy.
A multi-state settlement was reached in July 2021, with Stein leading the charge. All 100 North Carolina counties and 47 of its municipalities signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with N.C. Association of County Commissioners governing how to use the proceeds. The MOA allocates 85% of the state funds to local governments, with New Hanover County receiving 2.89%. The money will be paid out over an 18-year period, beginning the second quarter of 2022.
“This is a milestone in New Hanover County’s fight against the opioid crisis and holding those most responsible for this pain responsible,” county commissioner chair Julia Olson-Boseman said in a news release. “We were among the first in the nation, and the first in North Carolina, to file suit against these drug distributors for the roles they played in the opioid crisis, and I am proud that our county has continued to be integral in getting the justice our community deserves.”
Olson-Boseman relayed that the settlement funds will help establish a comprehensive mental health and substance use disorder strategy. The county also established $50 million in mental and behavioral health funds, following the February 2021 sale of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
“We plan to coordinate and partner with the city and our beach towns, Novant Health, Trillium Health Resources and other key stakeholders in our community to build a path forward and out of this crisis,” Olson-Boseman said in the release.
The county’s overdose death rate, 39.7 per 100,000 residents, is higher than the state average, which is 28.4 per 100,000 residents. From 2016 through 2020, 411 residents died of an unintentional overdose, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Based on information from the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, suspected overdose deaths statewide in 2021 increased by 26%.
“These deaths are heartbreaking and the families torn apart will never be the same,” Olson-Boseman said in the release. “But New Hanover County is committed to evidence-based addiction treatment and prevention, support for our residents through recovery, and helping individuals with the resources they need – so that we can emerge from this crisis and save lives and families.”
County manager Chris Coudriet served as a member of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ opioid settlement working group, known as the 555 committee (consisting of five commissioners, five county managers and five county attorneys). This committee has been collaborating with the Department of Justice since March 2020 on a distribution model for the settlement funds to ensure local governments received the bulk of the share.
New Hanover County, one of the most populous counties but second-smallest in land area, will receive the sixth-largest settlement amount, following only Forsyth, Gaston, Guilford and Wake counties. Mecklenburg County will receive the largest portion at $32.5 million.
As well, the City of Wilmington will receive $769,823; Brunswick County will receive $13.6 million; and Pender County’s share is $2.4 million.
This is the second largest multi-state agreement in U.S. history, only exceeded by the $206 million settlement in 1998, known as the “Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement,” according to a release from Stein’s office.
The money will help support treatment, recovery, harm reduction and other strategies to mitigate the opioid epidemic across the state.
In addition to the settlement funds, Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen will:
- Establish a centralized, independent clearing house for all three distributors to regulate the production and distribution of their drugs;
- Use data-driven systems to detect suspicious orders from pharmacies and terminate any who do not comply;
- Prohibit sales staff from influencing decisions about suspicious orders; and
- Require corporate officials to engage in regular oversight of anti-diversion efforts.
Johnson & Johnson is prohibited from selling opioids; funding or providing grants to third parties promoting opioids; lobbying on activity related to opioids.
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