As local governments decide on how to spend funds from settlements with opioid makers, a coalition of health societies and advocacy groups calls for public officials to dedicate the proceeds to a program that will help people with substance use disorders, instead of using the money for their budgets. 

Proceeds from the Lawsuits

The suggestion comes as different Opioid Epidemic Lawsuits were brought to the attention of different courts and will continue to proceed around the U.S. which involves numerous states and county and city governments, which have filed around 2,600 lawsuits to hold drug companies, wholesalers, and retailers of opioid painkillers accountable. The final value of the proceeds from these litigations is expected to reach tens of billions of dollars in cash.

When a deal is settled, a large sum of money from these cases would mean a huge payday for local governments, which have seen a decrease in their budgets due to the pandemic. Because of this, members of the coalition expressed worries that high-ranking officials might repeat the mistakes committed during the 1998 settlement of tobacco litigation that generated a whopping $246 billion payout in a span of 25 years.

Oxycodone pills spilled on the floor

“As states, counties, and municipalities begin receiving funds from entities that exacerbated America’s opioid overdose crisis, it will be critical for decision makers to use that money wisely,” said Paul Earley, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, a member of the coalition. 

“To make the most of this opportunity, state and local leaders should invest in evidence-based approaches to prevent and treat addiction, promote racial equality, and save lives,” he added.

The coalition issued principles suggesting local governments make use of medical evidence yielded by the opioid crisis to help with spending decisions, which should create programs aiming to support young people and their families. The members of the group asserted that the process should have public health leaders and clinicians to direct and guide it, as well as people directly affected by the opioid crisis along with their families.

It is more important now to shed light on the issue as the pandemic has seen an enormous increase in the number of opioid overdose-related deaths, with some states recording increases of 30%.

Court gavel on top of dollar bills

For this same reason, more government officials may be willing to settle deals. Analyst David Steinberg wrote in a statement to investors, “Because the COVID pandemic has created dire financial situations for states and local municipalities, they are likely more amenable to settlements.” 

Just last November, Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to a $23 billion worth of free medications to settle a deal. The Israeli drugmaker was also the drugmaker being held liable in a separate legal proceedings called the Paragard lawsuits, for allegedly manufacturing a faulty birth control device and not disclosing its potential dangers to the public. The lawsuit still sees a growing number of plaintiffs seeking relief from the injuries they suffered from the medical device. 

Opioids and the COVID-19 Pandemic

A magazine about the opioid crisis on top of table

Since 2014, the nation observed a 37% decrease in opioid prescriptions, and yet the number of drug-related overdose deaths has continued to increase, this time caused by the huge increase in the use of illicit opioids like fentanyl and heroin, as well as stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. 

And now, as the U.S. continues to deal with the effects of COVID-19, more Americans are isolated, anxious, stressed, and concerned about their financial situations and the possibility that they will lose their jobs. Those two are considered to be risk factors for people who already have substance use disorders. 

According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 19,000 people died from drug overdose in the first three months of 2020 alone, which is about 3,000 more than the recorded deaths of similar reasons in the same period during 2019. If these numbers do not change, or worse, gets higher, the U.S. will record an all-time high number of overdose-related deaths in one calendar year. 

Many states have already taken measures to stop the increase of overdose cases. Maine, for instance, removed a one-to-one exchange which resulted in increased access to sterile products.

Meanwhile, more than two dozen states have removed strict requirements in medications that help treat opioid-use disorder, and passed mental health legislations as well. 

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