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How recent proposed settlements by opioid manufacturer, distributors could affect Gainesville and Hall County
01102018 OPIOIDS
Opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen made a $26 billion settlement offer this week with states, counties and cities affected by the opioid crisis. 

Attorney Dustin Davies, who is part of a team representing Gainesville and Hall County, said any settlement would need court approval and any payouts to governments would likely be over the course of 18 years.  

Davies called it a “good development” that is still surrounded by many unknowns. 

“It is about $4 billion more than sort of the last proposal that was floated earlier this year,” said Davies, adding that there are still many details to hammer out. “… If that settlement goes through, the impact on Hall and Gainesville will be we’re hoping (the funds) will get to the city and county faster. Part of the terms of that agreement provide for more sources for treatment and prevention in the local community.” 

Jordan Hussey, the executive director of the Gainesville recovery center J’s Place, previously told The Times the number of services offered per month at the Gainesville recovery center tripled between March and April, increasing from 577 to 1,686. That number includes any service including support meetings, groceries and individual coaching. 

In the past two months, the center has still offered around 1,500 services per month. Hussey said she saw this as a sign of “stability,” showing people are consistent in reaching out for support. 

J’s Place is an abbreviated name for Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center. The namesake was a Gainesville man who died of an opioid overdose in 2012. 

In the Northern District of Ohio, U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster certified a settlement negotiating class Sept. 11, 2019, regarding the multi-district opioid litigation between local governments and drug manufacturers/distributors. 

Almost a year later, the Sixth Court of Appeals ruled in September that the negotiation class did not follow the federal rules of civil procedure. A petition was filed to have a rehearing, but Davies did not know the status of that petition. 

Drugmaker Purdue Pharma, the company behind the prescription painkiller OxyContin, agreed to plead guilty last month to federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, according to the Department of Justice. 

The deal does not release any of the company’s executives or owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family — from criminal liability, and a criminal investigation is ongoing. Family members said they acted “ethically and lawfully,” but some state attorneys general said the agreement fails to hold the Sacklers accountable. 

The company will plead guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, the officials said, and the agreement will be detailed in a bankruptcy court filing in federal court. 

Purdue will make a direct payment to the government of $225 million, which is part of a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture. In addition to that forfeiture, Purdue also faces a $3.54 billion criminal fine, though that money probably will not be fully collected because it will be taken through a bankruptcy, which includes a large number of other creditors, including thousands of state and local governments. Purdue will also agree to $2.8 billion in damages to resolve its civil liability. 

“Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice in the agreed statement of facts,” Steve Miller, who became chairman of the company’s board in 2018, said in a statement. 

Part of the money from the settlement would go to aid in medication-assisted treatment and other drug programs to combat the opioid epidemic. That part of the arrangement echoes the plan the company is pushing in bankruptcy court and which about half the states oppose. 

Attorney Alex Hughes said the settlement must be approved by a bankruptcy court. 

“There’s a lot of uncertainty regarding what’s going to happen with (Purdue Pharma),” Hughes said. “All the states, local governments, including our clients, have filed (a) proof of claim with Purdue, but I really can’t say what’s going to happen.” 

Davies said litigation against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family is on hold through March 2021. 

If the settlement with the distributors and manufacturer works out, Davies said it could “overcome the hurdle” of the negotiation class being denied. 

An allocation map was created online for the negotiation class to give an idea of what counties and cities might receive under a settlement. The allocation was decided on three factors: the amount of opioids distributed within the county, the number of opioid deaths in the county and number of people suffering from opioid-use disorder. 

Based on a hypothetical $1 billion settlement, the total allocation value for Hall County would be $339,984, with the initial distribution being shared between the county and all incorporated municipalities. 

Because of the ruling on the negotiation class, Davies said it is unclear if a settlement would lead to the same payouts for cities and counties. 

“There will have to be some decision on allocation,” he said. “Whether they use that formula or something different, we don’t know at this time.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.