March 30, 2023 |
Photo – Seal of Carbon County – Bigfoot99 file photo
Carbon County has received the first tranche of money from a nationwide class-action lawsuit involving opioids.
In July of 2021, three of the major pharmaceutical companies responsible for distributing addictive opioid medication settled over 3,000 class-action lawsuits. McKesson, Amerisource Bergen, and Cardinal Health agreed to pay $26 billion in damages over the course of 25 years.
The money was awarded to each state and distributed to counties and towns affected by the manufactured opioid crisis. Carbon County was the first county in Wyoming to sign onto the lawsuit. County Attorney Ashley Davis said the first round of payments has been received.
Davis said in 2018, a personal injury lawyer named Jason Ochs reached out to the commissioners about joining the class-action lawsuit. Davis said the state’s Attorney General at the time, Peter K. Michael, wasn’t interested in the case until additional municipalities enrolled.
Ochs agreed to represent the county with the stipulation that he would only be paid if the case was won. The county signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with the state for a 65/35 split of the settlement. The state would take 35% with the remaining 65% of the money being distributed among the participating counties and municipalities.
Attorney Davis said another large settlement from Teva, a company specializing in manufacturing generic drugs, is on the way. She said Ochs has requested a new MOU which would give municipalities a larger portion of the next settlement.
Attorney Davis asked if the board agreed with the terms of the new MOU. Commissioner John Johnson said he was thankful for Ochs giving Carbon County credit for initiating Wyoming’s participation in the class action lawsuit. He said he supported having the state receive a smaller share.
The board said it approved of the new MOU. Attorney Davis said she would tell Ochs and have the agreement ready for them to sign by next month.
With the first payment in hand, the county must now figure out the most effective way to spend the money. Attorney Davis said several agencies have already reached out to her asking about funding. She said the settlement has restrictions on how the money can be used. The county attorney suggested the commissioners establish an oversight taskforce.
Commission Chairwoman Sue Jones said she agreed with Davis’s suggestion. Jones said the committee should be small, no more than 3 to 5 people, and Sheriff Alex Bakken and Attorney Davis should be members. The committee would take requests from other agencies and make recommendations to the commissioners. The board of commissioners will have the final say over how the money is distributed. Commissioner Johnson asked to be included on the taskforce. Chairwoman Jones said it’s up to the members to decide how the committee should be run.
The Board of Carbon County Commissioners agreed the opioid lawsuit settlement money should be used for prevention. Mental health and treatment services will be the focus of the funding oversight committee.