The opioid epidemic has far-reaching impacts on individuals, families, communities, states and lawmakers. In Pennsylvania alone, 47,600 people died in overdoses involving opioids in 2017. Now, nationwide litigation against the pharmaceutical companies who have produced, aggressively marketed and distributed opioids are bringing in money through legal settlements. Now the question remains who gets that money and for what use?
Wide-Reaching Opioid Epidemic
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports more than 130 people in the U.S. die from an opioid overdose every day. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says 12 people in the state die daily from opioid overdoses. The staggering numbers have made states take notice and try to hold drug companies accountable for their role in the problem.
For example, Oklahoma earned a $350 million settlement from Purdue Pharma and Teva — Purdue ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Although Oklahoma was the first state to go to trial, many other states have negotiated settlement money, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Nationally, attorney generals in almost every state created a consolidated class-action lawsuit that included almost 2,000 plaintiffs and settled before going to trial in federal court.
Money Coming to Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is about to see settlement money from multiple out-of-court settlements with opioid manufacturers who have chosen to settle court cases rather than try to win in court. Shapiro announced in October 2019 that the state would receive more than $53 million as part of a nationwide settlement against Reckitt Benckiser Group after alleging the company improperly marketed Suboxone and defrauded Medicaid systems in the state. In a deal with three different drug distributors and two different drug companies, PA will also get a portion of a $22.5 billion cash settlement — split between 35 states and local governments. In addition to the cash payout, there’s $26 billion available in medication-assisted treatment drug provision and distribution over 10 years as well.
How Should the Money Be Used?
States receiving settlements often struggle to find the correct use for the funds. Current proposals in Pennsylvania show opioid settlement money will go to state and local budgets as well as a state-administered fund to reduce the effects of the opioid crisis. Shapiro noted the settlement money would not go to families who lost a loved one from addiction, although they can still pursue their own civil cases.
Some are concerned that if the money goes to state and local governments without any clear parameters, it could end up going to other funds. For example, a master settlement between four big tobacco companies and over 45 states in 1998 resulted in $246 billion over 25 years. Although the settlement stipulated money should be used to prevent smoking and help those addicted to cigarettes, while PA focused most of its share on smoking cessation campaigns, nationwide states have still only spent 2.6% of that money on smoking prevention and programs to help people quit.
Other states that have received opioid settlement money have grappled with how to use the funds. Some believe funds should go to evidence-based medical and therapy treatments, while others want to see funding for research or training for doctors and others in the medical field.
Furthermore, there are information technology applications, tools, and solutions that can be leveraged to greatly assist Pennsylvania in its challenge to slow down and mitigate the opioid crisis. In combination with Commonwealth service programs, these types of tools can provide a digital advantage to assist citizens in initiating and maintaining recovery, as well as enhancing the quality of life in long term recovery.
In Pennsylvania, there is also a growing sense among mental health care providers that one of the reasons that state funding for people with mental illness has not increased is because Pennsylvania state government spent millions of dollars to combat the opioid epidemic over the last number of years. These providers believe that a portion of these settlement dollars needs to be put to increasing the funding for other critically important human service needs, particularly mental health.
Who Will Weigh In?
Established in January 2018, The Opioid Command Center was created to monitor the implementation and progress of the initiatives made by Governor Wolf when he declared the heroin and opioid epidemic a statewide disaster emergency. The center, which houses the Unified Opioid Coordination Group, meets weekly and is staffed by personnel from 17 state agencies, headed by the departments of Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs. A few of the key focus areas for the Center are improving coordination and collection of data to help state and local agencies, improving tools for families and first responders to save live, and expanding and speeding up access to treatment. Governor Wolf recently renewed the declaration, to allow for groups and state agencies to continue to work together to battle the epidemic.
Pugliese Associates Brings a Voice to Our Clients
Pugliese Associates enables our clients to share ideas, technologies, and human service considerations as the Commonwealth weighs the best possible uses for Pennsylvania’s opioid settlement money in order to have the greatest beneficial impact on our current opioid crisis for Pennsylvania citizens. Contact us today to learn more.