County Considers Opioid Settlement

SALISBURY – A discussion on whether the county should join a multi-billion-dollar settlement against four national drug companies highlighted a recent work session.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council held a work session with legal counsel to discuss a proposed $26 billion settlement with drug distributors McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. and drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson for their alleged roles in the country’s opioid epidemic.

“We’re still early in this stage,” said Andrew Illuminati, an attorney with the county’s law firm.

Two years ago, the council agreed to hire outside legal counsel to represent Wicomico in litigation against opioid manufacturers. But whether the county should abandon that litigation in favor of a proposed settlement is a question Illuminati said officials would need to consider if the state decided to join.

“If they say there is not sufficient participation, then the litigation continues on the current track,” he explained. “If they say there is sufficient participation, then each of the subdivisions will receive notice.”

Illuminati said the states had until Aug. 21 to join the settlement. As of Monday, however, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh had yet to announce a decision.

“He has not issued a press release stating that Maryland is joining,” he said. “However … he indicated that he is inclined, that Maryland will join the settlement and that he expects the vast majority of the states to opt in.”

Should that happen, Illuminati said, the distributors and manufacturer would have until Sept. 4 to determine if there is enough participation to proceed.

“So after this September 4 date, when the notice is sent to the subdivisions, if the defendants are going to proceed, then there would need to be a closed session with counsel specifically on this litigation and whether or not Wicomico County should join,” he said.

Illuminati told the council the county would have 120 days to decide. However, he recommended a meeting with outside legal counsel to discuss the county’s options.

When asked how much Wicomico could receive from the settlement, Illuminati said he didn’t know. He noted, however, that the settlement amount would be distributed to states based on population, overdose fatalities and other factors.

“It can only be spent on abatement of the opioid epidemic,” he said. “Within the law, 85% of the settlement was to go to the state for its discretion on how to abate, and 15% was allocated for the subdivisions. However, how much of that 15% each subdivision would receive is unknown.”

The proposal could bring as much as $485 million to Maryland and its local subdivisions to help address the opioid epidemic, Frosh said in a statement, and will require significant reform of industry practices.

“While this settlement cannot undo the harm suffered by millions of Americans who have been hurt by the opioid epidemic, it is a very important step forward,” he said. “We hope and anticipate that this proposed agreement will bring relief for many thousands of Maryland families who continue to suffer the devastating consequences of opioid addiction.”

Following further discussion last week, the council agreed to hold a meeting with outside legal council next month.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.