Maine AG: $26 billion opioid settlement could bring ‘significant resources’

It is unclear how much Maine stands to receive.
It is unclear how much Maine stands to receive.(Gray tv)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 7:43 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - Attorneys for numerous state and local governments across the country Wednesday announced they had reached a tentative settlement with three of the country’s largest opioid distribution companies and manufacturer Johnson & Johnson.

The landmark agreement represents the culmination of a years-long effort seeking to force pharmaceutical companies to pay for their role in the country’s addiction epidemic.

“I am pleased with the progress that has been made toward a settlement with these four companies. From the start, attorneys in my office have worked hard to ensure the best possible relief for the people of Maine. This agreement stands to yield significant resources, and we will continue to pursue the steps needed to ensure that Maine and its counties and municipalities receive the full benefit of the settlement,” Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement.

It is unclear how much Maine stands to receive.

Frey’s office said payments will be determined using an agreed-upon formula, “that takes into account the impact of the crisis on the state – the number of overdose deaths, the number of residents with substance use disorder, and the number of opioids prescribed – and the population of the state.”

The agreement is with distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson as well as opioid maker Johnson & Johnson.

Attorneys held a press conference Wednesday afternoon, describing how the money can be spent.

“It includes education, medically assisted treatment. It addressed problems in the jail. It addresses education on the dangers of these drugs,” attorney Joseph Rice said.

Attorneys provided examples for spending, noting flexibility in possible uses for the funds. In areas with high homeless populations linked to opioid dependence, funds could be invested in support programs, one attorney noted.

“It is for approved uses. Its broad use and it gives discretion to the communities but the main point is it will be used for those purposes. It won’t be used to fill potholes or to build libraries or to balance budgets,” attorney Paul Geller said.

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of Maine’s Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, wants to ensure treatment and recovery experts are heard from before any money from litigation settlements are spent.

Shaughnessy supported a tabled piece of legislation that aimed to create an advisory committee made up of experts to work with the Attorney General to determine how money from opioid lawsuits are used.

Shaughnessy says if the state receives money before the bill goes back before the legislature, the attorney general pledged to consult a group of recovery stakeholders.

“He had made a promise that he would reach out and pull people together so we are counting on that and I’m sure that he will stay true to his word,” Shaughnessy said.According to data from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, in 2020 there were 12,068 Medicaid patients with opioid use disorder, representing 5% of all Medicaid patients.

DHHS officials said the number of people accessing treatment has risen significantly with the expansion of Medicaid.

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