Crawford County likely to sign onto opioid settlement

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced Wednesday that Kansas is one of several states that have proposed a $26 billion settlement with four major drug companies to resolve claims by thousands of governmental entities nationwide related to the opioid crisis, although local governments still have to sign off on the deal. 

The companies involved are pharmaceutical distributors Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corporation and AmerisourceBergen Corporation, as well as drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. 

“In addition to financial terms, the distributors have also agreed to changes in the pharmaceutical industry to help prevent a similar prescription-drug crisis from happening again,” Schmidt’s office said in a press release. “Johnson & Johnson will stop selling opioids, will not fund or provide grants to third-parties for promoting opioids and will not lobby on activities related to opioids.” 

The agreement will resolve Kansas’ and other participating states’ claims, as well as those of local governments nationwide. States will have 30 days to approve their participation in the settlement and local governments in participating states have up to 150 days to sign on. Most of the money is set to go towards opioid addiction treatment and prevention. 

"We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue, and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected,” Michael Ullmann, executive vice president and general counsel at J&J, said in a statement

“This settlement will directly support state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis in the United States,” he added. 

Similar to Ullmann’s description of the opioid crisis, Schmidt called the settlement negotiations “extraordinarily complex,” a view reflected also in past comments by Pat Smith, the Pittsburg attorney who has worked on Crawford County’s case as part of the broader opioid litigation. 

“There’s a willingness to settle, the problem is there’s so many moving parts,” Smith said last year. “I believe it will be settled but the issue is these guys [the pharmaceutical companies] want to — if they’re going to pay billions and billions of dollars, they want to buy their peace. They don’t want to pay that kind of money and still be fighting other lawsuits. So they’re trying to get a way to get everybody at the table.” 

Crawford County Counselor Jim Emerson said Thursday that the county would likely sign onto the proposed settlement. 

“I think that is our plan,” he said. “I think we’ll have to.” 

Emerson also said he has not been following the case as closely as Smith has, however, and that Smith would know more about the specific details and latest developments in the settlement negotiations. Smith could not be reached for comment by press time. 

Crawford County commissioners have previously expressed concerns that the State of Kansas might try to collect the settlement money on behalf of individual counties and cities, in which case it might not be fairly re-allocated. 

“There’s that tension,” Smith said last year. “This isn’t unlike the tobacco litigation, and there most of the coverage made it to the state level and was supposed to trickle down, and that really didn’t happen for the most part.” 

Some local governments and officials in other states have rejected the newly announced settlement agreement, including Washington state's attorney general, as well as cities and counties representing more than half of the state of Indiana’s population.