More than 85 counties and cities in South Carolina could share hundreds of millions in settlement money with opioid manufacturers and distributors through a landmark legal settlement, helping local authorities fight an epidemic that has taken root in the smaller towns and larger cities of the state.
The Palmetto State participants are among about 3,800 communities in 44 states across the country who are hoping to secure part of a multi-billion settlement from AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Johnson & Johnson and McKesson – among the largest American opioid distributors.
Up to $26 billion is at stake, and the state’s share would be 1.6% of the total payout: $410 million if the maximum is agreed. Charleston, Horry, Greenville and Richland counties are among those set to benefit, along with municipalities such as Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Summerville.
Robert Kittle, a spokesman for SC Attorney General Alan Wilson, said terms of payment to participating entities will only be made public after a final agreement, which is expected in late February. Funds would be paid out over 18 years.
Wilson declined to comment on the potential windfall from the state, citing ongoing litigation, but the head of South Carolina’s Opioid Emergency Response Team hopes the dollars will be used in a variety of ways.
“I hope this means significant investments in evidence-based treatment,” Sara Goldsby, SC Department Head of Substance Abuse Services, told The Post and Courier on Jan. 26. “But not just treatment. More broadly, I hope this means policy makers will think about strategies along the continuum of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.”
When SC Wilson’s attorney general filed his lawsuit against the companies in 2019, he laid the groundwork for the depth of the opioid crisis that has spanned lives here — and why the so-called ‘big three’ distributors of AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and Johnson & Johnson should be held accountable.
Between 2006 and 2014, more than half of the opioids shipped in the state came from these companies in volumes that exceed regular market demand, the complaint claims: Supply of 2.2 billion tablets between those years, or 500 times the population of the state.
Between 2015 and 2019, opioid-related deaths in South Carolina jumped 55%, from 565 to 876, according to state public health data. Horry County alone recorded 131 opioid overdose deaths in 2019 – the most recent year for which statistics are available.
“I hope there’s a reflection on strategies that support the recovery community itself, because a lot of people are recovering and have recovered, and are living vibrant lives,” Goldsby said. “Through this drug crisis, there’s a sense just for the settlement to come back into the communities, because it’s so personal for a lot of them.”
Myrtle Beach expects to get $4.3 million from the settlement, with the money used to fund ongoing treatment, prevention and education efforts related to opioid abuse, the spokesperson said. of the city, Mark Kruea.
Mayor Brenda Bethune said Jan. 25 that the city of 32,700 would expand its partnership with New Directions, a local nonprofit that since 2017 has helped more than 300 people with job placement and treatment options. Drugs. The board unanimously voted for a partial settlement with the big pharmas.
“These funds will allow us to continue the work that has been started as part of these efforts. We have an opioid epidemic,” Bethune said. “It’s nationwide, but it’s going to go a long way to helping us solve the problems we have here.”
Less is known about the type of financial compensation Horry County may receive. The board met on January 24 with only one item on the agenda: to vote on “the proposed settlement of legal claims” which was discussed privately.
County spokeswoman Kelly Moore said she was unable to provide more information citing ongoing litigation.
Parties hoping to take advantage of the settlement had until January 26 to register. The Charleston City Council did so on the deadline.
The Charleston City Council discussed in executive session its part of the settlement in the nationwide case against opioid manufacturers on Jan. 26. The board approved accepting the settlement rather than continuing to litigate. The amount the city will receive has not yet been made public.
Charleston County is still dealing with the effects of the opioid epidemic with 142 confirmed unintentional opioid or drug-related deaths reported by the county coroner’s office as of the end of 2021. The county also had 41 suspected cases of overdose who are awaiting toxicological tests.
The Greenville County Board took similar action this week, voting Jan. 25 to opt to settle the lawsuit, though the exact amount to come is still unknown. The county lost 102 people to opioid overdoses in 2019.
John B. White, an attorney representing the county in the case, said Greenville County can expect to receive 85% of the total funds in direct payments for the first nine years, beginning in 2022. The remaining 15% would go toward a statewide reduction. funds. For the next nine years, payments would be divided equally between direct payments and the reduction fund.
And Fountain Inn city administrator Shawn Bell told The Post and Courier the city’s action was not required in time because, unlike the county, Fountain Inn never sued individually. lawsuit against the manufacturers, but chose to join the South Carolina lawsuit filed by the attorney general’s office instead. .
The settlement agreement would be worth about $450,000 over 18 years for Fountain Inn, Bell said.
Emma Whalen contributed from Charleston and Nate Cary contributed from Greenville.