GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state of Michigan will receive nearly $800 million this year as part of a settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors.
This week, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel held a press conference to talk about the settlement.
“Since their introduction into the marketplace, opioids have had a devastating impact on our country and on our state,” Nessel said Tuesday. “Thousands of Michigan families have been touched by a substance abuse disorder and have experienced the death of a loved one due to opioid use. I honestly don’t know anyone in our state that hasn’t had this touch their lives or their family’s lives in some way.”
The national settlement totals $26 billion — paid out by Johnson & Johnson for its role in manufacturing the drugs and three pharmaceutical distributors: Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen.
According to a release from Nessel’s office, funds will be transferred to a national administrator who will disperse the money to state and local governments by the end of the summer. Michigan will receive approximately $776 million, with half of the funds going to state programs. The other half will go to local governments that joined the lawsuit.
“The settlement will equip communities across our state with resources that were not previously available to better address the opioid crisis and support abatement efforts,” Nessel said. “This historic national agreement marks the culmination of three years of negotiations to resolve more than 4,000 claims of state and local governments across the country. It’s the second largest multistate agreement in United States history, second only to the Tobacco Master Settlement of the 1990s.”
According to the latest data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, opioid deaths are trending up in the state. In 2020, more than 2,000 Michigan residents died. That’s up from 1,768 Michiganders in 2019 and nearly three times higher than the number reported in 2010.
However, in Kent County, opioid deaths are dropping. Over the last three years, Kent County averaged 82 opioid overdose deaths per year, down from 104 in 2017.
Rachel Jantz is an opioid epidemiologist for the Kent County Health Department and is co-chairs the Kent County Opioid Task Force. She says it’s clear the task force’s programs are having an impact, helping increase the visibility of how the crisis is hurting our communities.
“(The settlement) is going to allow us to expand upon the initiatives that we have already focused on as a community,” Jantz told News 8. “Kent County has had a long-standing harm reduction group with the Grand Rapids Red Project and the health systems have made a point to focus on the opioid epidemic. So all of these efforts combined have helped to prevent Kent County from seeing the increase in the last few years that the rest of the country has seen.”
The task force has three subcommittees: Prevention, Intervention and Treatment and Recovery. The Prevention subcommittee focuses on education — teaching people about opioid use disorder and making sure that people who are prescribed opioids understand the potential impact of the drug. The Intervention subcommittee deals with harm reduction services: increasing access to naloxone — a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose — and connecting people who have overdosed with a response team. The primary focus of the Treatment and Recovery subcommittee is to expand access to medications for people to help them kick an opioid addiction.
“It seems to be a large mission of the opioid settlement is to get more individuals into treatment,” Jantz said. “(We want) to get greater access to medications for opioid use disorder, whether through expanded handoffs within health systems, increasing the number of physicians who prescribe medications for opioid use disorder or just increasing the awareness of medications for opioid use disorder in the community, so individuals know that that’s an option for them.”
You can learn more about the Kent County Opioid Task Force and see what help is available through their website.
PURDUE PHARMA SETTLEMENT
As part of the settlement, Johnson & Johnson is also required to stop selling opioids, stop funding or providing grants to third parties to promote opioids and stop all lobbying activities related to opioids.
This settlement is separate from the one involving Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. Last week, Purdue Pharma announced a national settlement for its role in the opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma is the company that manufactured OxyContin, a powerful time-released painkiller. It has already pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges around business practices connected to the drug.
The Sackler family, which owns the company, is expected to pay out at least $6 billion and give up control of Purdue Pharma. According to CNBC, the company would be turned into a new entity that will use profits to fight the opioid crisis.
The Purdue Pharma settlement also includes a $750 million fund for individual victims. So far, more than 149,000 people have made claims from the fund.
The settlements still pale in comparison to the money spent and lost each year fighting the opioid crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States loses more than $1 trillion each year to the drug.
In 2017, the United States lost an estimated $1.02 trillion. Nearly half of that figure comes from the lives lost to opioids, but even removing quality of life or lost productivity, the country spent nearly $35 billion on treatment and health care for opioid addicts and nearly $15 billion to cover the legal expenses.