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Weber County signs on to $26B opioid settlement, but plan’s future unclear

By Tim Vandenack - | Dec 22, 2021

TOBY TALBOT, Associated Press

Weber County joined many other counties and cities from across the country on Thursday, May 24, 2018, in filing suit against Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, and other opioid makers. The firms are culpable in the opioid epidemic here, the suit says, because company officials knew of the addictive powers of opioids but downplayed the dangers and, instead, bolstered marketing efforts to maximize profits from sales of the drugs. This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt.

OGDEN — Weber County is on board with a proposed settlement with opioid distributors and manufacturers crafted in response to a series of lawsuits filed nationwide stemming from what critics say are the ill effects of use and abuse of the prescription painkillers.

The settlement calls for distribution of up to $26 billion nationwide over 18 years to aid with drug treatment and drug-abuse prevention efforts. Utah stands to get as much as $270 million of that, half to go to the state government and half to go to county governments, according to Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins.

Whatever the case, specific details governing distribution of any funding have to be worked out and the precise amount Utah gets hinges on how many locales across the state agree to the settlement proposal. Weber County filed suit against opioid makers and distributors in 2018 in 2nd District Court in Ogden, paralleling moves by locales across the country.

“Frankly, this thing’s so fluid I don’t know what to say about it,” Jenkins said. County commissioners, who voted 3-0 Tuesday in favor of taking part in the settlement, would drop their pending opioid lawsuit if the agreement ultimately pans out.

Some Davis County officials have expressed reticence about signing on to the settlement, thinking they might get more funding if they stay the course with the lawsuit they filed against opioid makers and distributors. “We’ve been advised that we have an excellent case,” said Davis County Commissioner Lorene Kamalu. “So far, we intend to stay the course.”

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings cited the lack of specifics on the settlement, making it tough to agree to the state’s proposal. “We really have no firm settlement before us to consider,” he said.

Jenkins said earlier estimates put the amount of money Weber County may get at $600,000 to $700,000 a year over 18 years. “You can put programs together with money like that,” he said.

However, precise dollar amounts haven’t been pinpointed. The state would stand to get less than the full $270 million if all 29 counties don’t sign on to the settlement, according to Jenkins.

Weber County’s lawsuit, like others, charges that overuse and abuse of opioids like OxyContin, narcotics used as painkillers, has taken a heavy toll on the county and the residents here. Manufacturers and distributors are culpable, it says, because they knew of the addictive powers of opioids but downplayed the dangers and, instead, bolstered marketing efforts to maximize profits from sales of the drugs.

Utah and Salt Lake counties have agreed to the settlement proposal, Jenkins said. But officials in Grand County, for one, voted last month not to take part, according to the Moab Sun News.

Officials in Utah cities have also been weighing in on the issue, considering measures voicing support for the settlement. Cities, though, don’t stand to get a piece of the funding since counties typically handle drug rehabilitation and drug-abuse prevention programs.

Municipal involvement in the issue is mainly meant to get a gauge of support for the settlement, as described by Roger Tew, a senior policy advisor at the Utah League of Cities and Towns. “We’re doing fairly well,” he said, with more and more cities expressing backing.

According to Weber County’s 2018 lawsuit, the overall opioid overdose death rate here, 25.2 per 100,000 residents, exceeded the statewide figure, 23.4 per 100,000. Downtown Ogden had the highest per-capita rate of opioid deaths in Utah in 2014 and 2015 with 55.33 per 100,000 residents, according to data from the Utah Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup. That amounted to 41 deaths.


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