Opioid lawsuit settled locally

The Jefferson County Board of Legislators met Tuesday to approve a proposed settlement with a handful of pharmaceutical distributors over their involvement in the opioid addiction epidemic. Erik McGregor/Zuma Press/TNS

WATERTOWN — Jefferson County may soon start to see millions of dollars in settlement money from one of the numerous opioid lawsuits in which it is participating.

On Tuesday, the Board of Legislators gathered for a special meeting to vote on the proposed settlement with the pharmaceutical distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, as well as Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson’s drug company.

The settlement comes as a part of the national agreement reached between the companies and thousands of state and local governments that have sued them over their involvement in the opioid addiction epidemic.

The government entities have argued in court that their communities have suffered undue harm from the massive spread of the addictive drugs, and have carried extraordinary financial responsibilities in responding to the ongoing health crisis.

Jefferson County’s agreement comes after the companies settled with New York state as a whole, in a separate $1.1. billion deal, in which the companies admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pick up some of the costs of addressing the epidemic. That payment will be spread over 17 years.

According to Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen, the deal legislators approved Tuesday requires all four companies to pay the county, and a state entity on the county’s behalf, over a period of either 10 or 18 years. Mr. Paulsen said the Janssen Pharmaceuticals agreement is slightly different than the deal with the other companies. If calculations remain the same as they are now, the company will provide $158,098 over 10 years to Jefferson County in direct payments.

“This is all somewhat of a prediction,” Mr. Paulsen said.

They will also provide $740,716 over the same time period in money to be used to address the opioid epidemic and drug addiction in the county. That money will not be given to Jefferson County, but instead to an as-yet-undecided state agency that will distribute the funding to county agencies and organizations that address drug addiction.

“It’s not really clear yet how it will be distributed,” Mr. Paulsen said. “I’m assuming that probably, the service providers will apply to the state as they provide the service and get reimbursed. The county won’t be handling those funds.”

In the second part of the settlement, distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen will pay the county $687,882 over 18 years in direct financial compensation. They will also pay $3,342,468 to a state agency for use in the county, also over 18 years.

These totals are estimates because they change based on the number of counties that vote to authorize the agreement. According to a release from state Attorney General Letitia A. James sent in early October, Jefferson County is eligible for between $1.1 million and $1.9 million in total from the settlements, the largest distribution for the north country. St. Lawrence County is eligible for between $1.06 million and $1.84 million, and Lewis County could see between $216,993 and $374,684.

Mr. Paulsen said this lawsuit is only one of a number Jefferson County expects to see in the coming years, as it has participated in a number of opioid-epidemic related suits.

“I can’t say for sure, but I do expect this will all work out over several years where we will see these settlements happening,” he said.

The county had already authorized another settlement related to the opioid epidemic, voting in favor of a settlement with Purdue Pharma in July. That agreement provides $200 million to New York state. Attorney General James said in early October that each county’s payment amount from that settlement is still being finalized.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

I write about north country politics, Jefferson County and the northern shoreline towns of Lyme, Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay

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