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As deadline approaches for $26B opioid settlement proposal, concerns raised by communities impacted

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 2:26 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - As the deadline approaches for a $26 billion opioid settlement, concerns are being raised by one community on the frontlines of the opioid crisis.

“We don’t like that settlement,” said attorney Mark Tate, who is representing Chatham County in a pending lawsuit to hold the opioid industry accountable. “That’s what’s happening in Georgia and we’re negotiating obviously to make that work for everybody.”

The settlement is being considered by dozens of state attorney generals across the nation, including Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. The deadline to decide is Saturday, Aug. 21.

The proposed settlement includes major pharmaceutical distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation and one of the opioid drug manufacturers and marketers: Johnson & Johnson.

As a part of the deal, Johnson & Johnson has agreed to stop selling opioids in the U.S. It’s one of the drug makers that sourced supplies and profited off widely prescribed drugs, including oxycodone, a highly-addictive pain killer.

For years, the opioid-addiction crisis has overwhelmed community resources from police to medical personnel to addiction recovery centers.

WTOC Investigates has reported on the ripple effect in Chatham County - most recently with how dangerous street drugs are now being laced with fentanyl causing more people to overdose, and a report about how taxpayers are paying for opioid drug treatment and prevention.

The offer on the table, Tate said, doesn’t go far enough to right the wrongs of an industry.

“The money that’s being paid out is being paid out over close to two decades,” he said. “That’s outrageous. These companies - this is not going to make any difference to them.”

He says the deal also doesn’t give Chatham County the power to decide how to best spend the money.

“So, that means the municipalities are put in a position where they got to go beg and I can tell you the leadership at Chatham County doesn’t think it aught to have to beg to the state to get allocated resources,” Tate said.

The looming settlement deadline comes after Carr already has settled one aspect of the opioid lawsuit in a 47-state joint agreement with the opioid drug marketing firm McKinsey & Company. Earlier this year, in February, his office announced Georgia will receive nearly $17 million settlement.

WTOC Investigates has not found any public statements about exactly how the money will be spent. It’s something that also concerns Tate on behalf of Chatham County.

“Even though that’s not a lot of money statewide,” he said. “It is something. And the state has not allocated one single penny.”

We asked for an interview with Carr’s office. A spokesperson declined our request last Friday to talk about the McKinsey deal because of the ongoing negotiations related to the Johnson & Johnson settlement.

She pointed us to a statement from his office on July 21, which was released after New York’s Attorney General agreed to its own $1.25 billion settlement with the same drug distributors and manufacturers. It reads in part:

“Today, an agreement with opioid distributors and a manufacturer was announced,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “While we participated in the discussions leading up to this announcement, we are still in the process of evaluating the final terms of the proposal to determine what is in the best interest of our state and its citizens. We look forward to continuing to work with Georgia stakeholders during this decision-making process.”

WTOC Investigates has asked which stakeholders are included in the decision, but were told those details cannot be shared at this time.

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