By Beth Lawrence
Jackson County has received the first payment from a settlement between states, counties and municipalities and opioid manufacturers.
The county’s first payment amounts to $125,633.69.
“During the next 18-year period our total allotment will be $3,270,043,” Finance Manager Darlene Fox said.
The settlement is the end result of 3,000 federal lawsuits filed in almost every state including North Carolina and 76 of its counties and eight municipalities. The actions were taken against several companies who manufactured, marketed and distributed the pain medications and promoted the highly addictive pills as safe for regular use.
“They had a targeted campaign,” said Brian McMahan, Chair of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. “They really, back several years ago, ramped up their efforts to promote them on television and in different ads and to push doctors into prescribing opioids which created this issue where then all of a sudden, all these people got hooked on them. They were so easy to get they were handing them out like they were candy. Then there’s the illegal aspect of it which is people selling pills on the black market and abusing those pills.”
The suits claimed manufacturers “grossly misrepresented the risks of long-term use of those drugs for persons with chronic pain,” and distributors “failed to properly monitor suspicious orders of those prescription drugs – all of which contributed to the current opioid epidemic,” according to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.
North Carolina received $750 million from the agreement which will be distributed to the counties and municipalities that accepted the settlement. Payment amounts are based on population.
This year the county will receive two payments and one each following year.
“We’ll get another payment this summer; it’ll be $276,293,” Fox said.
There are limitations on how the money can be spent, but specific guidelines have not been released yet.
Commissioners have not begun discussing plans for the money.
“With it being stretched over 18 years in payments, it makes it a little more challenging,” McMahan said. “If we got $3.3 million all at once it might be in some ways easier to try and figure out how to spend that money. Personally, I would like to see if there are ways to do work upstream and really focus heavily on prevention.”
More than 16,000 North Carolinians have died due to opioid abuse, and counties have borne the brunt of the financial burden of the opioid epidemic providing healthcare and social services for addicts and their families and dealing with criminal matters stemming from drug misuse, according to the NCACC.