Chambers County Commission approved settlements from Opioid lawsuit

Published 9:26 am Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Chambers County Commission approved the proposed settlements the county would enter into with the State of Alabama against Janssen Pharmaceuticals and McKesson Pharmaceuticals. This comes after Alabama announced that it obtained $276 million in settlements in April of this year over claims that several companies fueled the opioid crisis.

According to the Alabama Department of Mental Health, Alabama was first in the nation in 2012 for per-capita opioid prescriptions, with 143.8 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents. While the rate per capita has been on a steady decline each year, the state was still the highest per capita opioid prescribing state in 2019, with a rate of 121 prescriptions per 100 persons, equivalent to 1.2 prescriptions for every man, woman and child in the state.

The lawsuit, which has been ongoing since 2019, started when Alabama claimed that drug companies and distributors used sophisticated and deceptive marketing to expand the use of opioids. According to the lawsuit, “Defendants needed to transform the medical and public perception to one that would permit the use of opioids not only for acute and palliative care but also for long periods of time to treat more common aches and pains, like lower back pain, arthritis and headaches.”

Despite both companies agreeing to settle, McKesson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals continue to deny any wrongdoing revolving around their marketing practices. In a press release by Johnson and Johnson, the parent company to Janssen, they stated that “the company’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of important prescription opioid medications were appropriate and responsible.”

Chambers County and the City of Lanett were two of 263 political municipalities that decided to enter into the lawsuit with the state. The $141 million from McKesson will be paid to the state of Alabama over the course of ten years, while Janssen agreed to pay its $70.3 million in a lump-sum payment this year. The money received from the settlements will be split amongst the state and participating municipalities, with half of the funds going to the state and the other half of the funds to be divided amongst the municipalities. According to Chambers County Attorney Skip McCoy, the process for determining the allocations involves a number of different factors, and the exact amount of money that Chambers County will receive has not been determined.

“The way that the process works is that a court-appointed special master will determine how the money will be allocated across the municipalities,” he said. “It will depend on a large number of factors including population size,  number of opioid-related deaths, number of opioids seized as well as the amount of money that municipalities have spent trying to abate the opioid crisis.”

McCoy noted that the money received is not for unrestricted usage, but instead is to be allocated toward remediating the harms caused by the opioid crisis. This may involve further funding the treatment and care of prison inmates struggling with drug abuse, as well as provision of medical resources and mental health programs. Furthermore, the funding will help to support law enforcement, emergency medical services and healthcare facilities that have been overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic.

“Overall, this fund will help to provide Chambers County with the necessary funding to combat the problems that we are facing right now,” McCoy said. “We have a continuing problem with drug usage, and this will help to fight against that.”