INGHAM COUNTY, Mich. — Michigan began a federal lawsuit against national opioid distributors and manufacturers in 2017.
Now the big three distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource — and major manufacturer Janssen, of Johnson & Johnson, are settling for $26 billion nationwide. Nearly $800 million of that will go to Michigan.
David Mittleman is an attorney at Grewal Law who represented four municipalities in mid-Michigan and was also part of a group of attorneys that represented 63 municipalities in Michigan.
"It's a very complex litigation that started back in 2017 and involves hundreds of lawyers — maybe close to 1,000 lawyers across the United States," Mittleman said. "This is involving all counties in Michigan -- we have 83 -- and all municipalities in excess of 10,000 people."
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Walker said there were a number of opioid cases, "so they were consolidated into something in federal court called 'multi-district litigation.'"
"This is a little twist on what happened a little over a decade ago in the tobacco litigation," Mittleman said,"where only the states participated — the attorney generals of each state — and there was supposed to be a trickle-down effect to the local governments, counties, cities and smaller local units of government, and it didn't trickle so well. So this time, when we saw what was happening and how bad this opioid epidemic is, we contemplated a different way of going about it and actually representing local governments."
There are 277 Michigan municipalities eligible to receive money.
"Participation from those eligible local subdivisions is one of the key components in making sure that Michigan gets all of the money it's allocated," Walker said. "We have, I believe, roughly 35 or 36 to go of 277."
Mittleman said the amount each municipality will receive is determined by, "the number of deaths the community has, the number of opioids that come into the community and the number of opioid-related treatment matters."
Ingham County Deputy Controller Jared Cypher said the county entered the federal suit in 2018.
"The reason we joined the federal suit is, our board of commissioners felt that opioid abuse and the opioid crisis was becoming a public health crisis in Ingham County," Cypher said.
In 2000, 183 people in Michigan died of an opioid overdose, and by 2019 that number had increased more than nine-fold.
There were 76 opioid-related deaths in Ingham County in 2020. The county will receive as estimated $7,396,892 over 18 years.
Cypher said while the amount is fair, there is still work to do.
"Keep in mind this settlement is only with four of the defendants and there are over 20 defendants in the lawsuit," Cypher said.
Mittleman said two of the defendants filed for bankruptcy as a result of the lawsuit: Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt.
"We do expect them, once the bankruptcy court proceedings conclude, to contribute in addition to this $26 billion settlement for all of the United States," Mittleman said. "There are other non-monetary concessions that were made in terms of not manufacturing such a dangerous drug."
The money will be used substantially for opioid treatment and prevention.
"The real crux of what this money is going to, is to reimburse what has been spent — for as long back as the municipality can go — and document money spent as a result of this man-made, created epidemic," Mittleman said. "In other words, additional first-responder runs, fire, police, use of Narcan."
Cypher said he anticipates there will be a planning process on how to spend the money with the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, "but most likely, the money is going to get sunk back into programming that will help combat and mitigate the opioid crisis in Ingham County."
Eligible municipalities have until Jan. 26 to participate and receive direct payments starting in April.
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