Sanpete County will receive payments of approximately $60,000 per year for 18 years from settlement of a suit against big drug companies related to the opioid crisis, according to Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels.
Johnson & Johnson and three of the largest prescription drug distributors, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, accepted culpability last July and agreed to pay out $26 billion nationwide for their part in the over-prescription of opioids.
The pattern of excessive prescribing let to an estimated 100,000 deaths in Utah, according to the Utah Opioid Task Force, which is managed by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
Johnson & Johnson’s portion of the national settlement is $6 billion, while the remaining $21 billion, will come from the three drug distributors.
Utah will receive $260 million, or 1.1889 percent, of the total payout, about half of which will go to the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. The other half will go to Utah municipalities and counties that agreed to the settlement terms.
In Utah, funds will be distributed based on the number of pills distributed and the rate of opioid use disorder compared to the population of the municipality or county.
The distribution schedule has not been determined for the State of Utah and 27 of Utah’s 29 counties other than Salt Lake County, which negotiated a separate agreement.
The Utah attorney general, the Utah Legislature, 27 counties and about 90 percent of Utah’s municipalities pooled together their resources towards an agreed settlement, Daniels said.
The law firm Durham & Pinegar in 2018 filed the initial suit in behalf of Sanpete County. After the initial filing, Daniels joined forces with county attorneys in other counties, county commissions, the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah Legislature to negotiate proposed terms of the settlement with a defense group representing the drug companies.
“There were a lot of meetings over Zoom,” Daniels said.
Daniels said that as Utah’s cases moved closer to settlement, he and Commission Chairman Scott Bartholomew were not happy about the proposal for the state to receive half of the settlement money coming to Utah, especially since the impact of opioids was felt primarily at a local level.
Under the settlement, 85 percent of the funds must be used towards “opioid abatement.” Under the settlement, “abatement” includes addressing the misuse and abuse of opioid products; treating or mitigating opioid use or related disorders; and mitigating other effects of opioids, including on those injured from opioid use.
The Sanpete County Commission will determine how the funds will be spent, Daniels said.
Grand and San Juan counties, which did not agree to the settlement, will face the four corporate giants in court on their own to seek a larger payout, according to the Deseret News.
Although statewide efforts in the last 10 years have significantly reduced the opioid abuse, deaths from opioid overdoses in Utah went up 20 percent in 2021. Utah has been as high as fourth in the nation for opioid deaths per capita, according to the Utah Opioid Task Force.