More than $ 2 billion of the $ 26 billion deal would not go to states and municipalities at all. It would be used to pay fees and costs for the private attorneys who represent thousands of counties and communities, as well as some states, in the opioid litigation. While many states are represented by their own employed attorneys, others, like most cities and counties, have had to rely on outside legal counsel to handle such a costly, all-consuming litigation.
As the states decide whether to sign up, trials against the companies continue, including one in California state court against Johnson & Johnson and one local trial against the distributors in federal court in West Virginia. At least half a dozen more attempts are scheduled to begin in the fall and early winter.
The plaintiffs’ executive committee, which negotiated on behalf of local governments, said Wednesday’s announcement was a milestone, but “reaching an agreement is only the first step.”
Joe Rice, a senior negotiator on the committee, noted that some states were required to pass laws determining the use of the opioid settlement money and excluding future litigation.
However, he stressed that from the start of the negotiations the payments had been used almost exclusively to fight the opioid epidemic. Mr Rice, who also helped negotiate the Big Tobacco Accords more than 20 years ago, admitted that much of that money was ultimately used to balance national budgets rather than addressing smoking problems.
The new agreement, he said, has much tighter guard rails to ensure funds are used for prevention, treatment, medication, education and other opioid-related issues.
Most states will likely work out their own payout plans with their local governments. Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and others have already taught internal formulas. Last month, New York lawmakers passed legislation to ensure that any money from the opioid litigation settlement goes into a “locked box” used only to deal with the crisis.