Tuesday, June 20, 2023–11:18 a.m.
-Rome News-Tribune (From KFF Health News Reports)-
More than $2 million has gone to Northwest Georgia cities and counties that signed opioid lawsuit settlement agreements with the state, so far.
Thousands of local governments nationwide are receiving settlement money from companies that made, sold, or distributed opioid painkillers, like Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, and Walmart.
The companies are shelling out more than $50 billion total in settlements from national lawsuits. But finding out the precise amount each city or county is receiving has been nearly impossible because the firm administering the settlement hasn’t made the information public.
After more than a month of communications with state attorneys general, private lawyers working on the settlement, and the settlement administrators, KFF Health News has obtained documents showing the exact dollar amounts — down to the cent — that local governments were allocated for 2022 and 2023. More than 200 spreadsheets detail the amounts paid by four of the companies involved in national settlements.
Rome and Floyd County are sharing in just under half a million dollars, based on the formula spelled out in the memorandum of understanding with the state of Georgia.
Rome’s payments — including one due this month — total $114,345. Floyd County’s total $303,972, for combined figure of $418,317. The amount they’ll actually have to spend on addressing the local opioid pandemic will depend on attorney fees and other costs of the lawsuits.
Here’s what neighboring jurisdictions have been allocated through June:
Chattooga County, $101,991.
Polk County, $219,229.
Gordon County, $128,362; city of Calhoun, $54,725.
Bartow County, $336,494; city of Cartersville, $91,965.
Walker County, $259,893.
Catoosa County, $324,293; city of Ringgold, $18,005.
Dade County, $55,320.
Several other opioid-related companies will start making payments later this year.
Access to “this information is revolutionary for people who care about how this money will be used,” said Dennis Cauchon, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Harm Reduction Ohio.
Some states, like North Carolina and Colorado, have posted their distribution specifics online. But in most other places, tracking payment amounts requires people to make phone calls, send emails, and file public records requests with every local government for which they want the information.
Cauchon has been seeking this information for his state since April 2022. “Opioid remediation work is done at the local level, at the individual level, and, now, for the first time, local people working on the issues will know how much money is available in their community.”
The national opioid settlements are the second-largest public health settlement of all time, following the tobacco master settlement of the 1990s. The money is meant as remediation for the way corporations aggressively promoted opioid painkillers, fueling an overdose crisis that has now largely transitioned to illicit drugs, like fentanyl. More than 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year.
So far, state and local governments have received more than $3 billion combined, according to a national summary document created by BrownGreer, a settlement administration and litigation management firm that was court-appointed to handle the distribution of payments.
In each state, settlement funds are divided in varying percentages among state agencies, local governments, and, in some cases, councils that oversee opioid abatement trusts. In Georgia, the state got 75% and the local jurisdictions received 25%, distributed according to the MOU formula.
Payments began in 2022 and will continue through 2038, setting up what public health experts and advocates are calling an unprecedented opportunity to make progress against an epidemic that has ravaged America for three decades. KFF Health News is tracking how governments use — and misuse — this cash in a yearlong investigation.
KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News, is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism.