Drug companies have reached their first settlements in lawsuits related to their role in the opioid crisis. They will pay Oklahoma and West Virginia a total of nearly $300 million, Governing reports. With hundreds of similar cases pending, many wonder, what will governments do with the money? The hope, says Mark Chalos, a Nashville attorney representing municipalities in a national opioid case, is that any proceeds from opioid-related lawsuits will go toward overdose prevention and other public health programs most affected by the crisis that took more than 70,000 lives last year. “Up to this point, the vast majority of the costs of the opioid catastrophe have been shouldered by the taxpayers,” says Chalos.
In 2015 alone, the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated the non-fatal costs of the epidemic totaled more than $430 billion. In Oklahoma, nearly $200 million of its $270 million payout from Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, will go toward establishing the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. Local governments will get $12.5 million. About $60 million went to legal fees. West Virginia, which settled last week for $37 million with the drug distributor McKesson, hasn’t said where the proceeds will go. Two years ago, the state placed $24 million from settlements with drug wholesalers Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen into a newly-created Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention Recovery Fund. The Oklahoma and West Virginia settlements are the first in what many believe will be a steady flow of similar activity in the coming years. After settling with Purdue, Oklahoma’s case against drug manufacturers Allergan, Cephalon and Janssen Pharmaceuticals is slated to go to trial this month. It has the potential to yield the first jury award and could foreshadow the outcome in other cases.