SALISBURY – Wicomico County will receive a payment of $128,000, in addition to grant funding opportunities, for its participation in a multi-billion-dollar settlement against four national drug companies.
On Tuesday, Andrew Illuminati, attorney for the county’s law firm, met with members of the Wicomico County Council to provide an update on the county’s participation in a $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.
As a result of that settlement, Illuminati noted Wicomico County would be receiving a first-year payment of $128,281, with a potential to receive more in available grant funding.
“The funding should be available by the end of next month …,” he told the council this week. “Once that payment is received, that money needs to be spent on abatement and we have to figure out how broad that definition is.”
In December, the county council voted to opt into a settlement with the major drug companies. Specifically, the settlement resolved allegations that the three distributors failed for years to monitor and report suspicious orders of opioid products, which resulted in diversion of those drugs on a massive scale, as well as claims that Johnson & Johnson deceptively marketed its fentanyl products to health care providers and patients.
“A number of years ago, Wicomico County filed suit in United States District Court for the District of Maryland against the aforementioned defendants in an opioid-related lawsuit …,” Illuminati said at the time. “At the same time Wicomico County filed its lawsuit, a number of political subdivisions across the United States filed similar lawsuits against the same defendants, resulting in what’s called multi-district litigation with all the lawsuits being consolidated.”
Since that time, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has announced the state’s participation in the settlement, joining 41 other states, five territories and the District of Columbia. He noted in a news release last September that McKesson, AmeriSourceBergen, Cardinal Health and Johnson & Johnson could pay over Maryland and its subdivisions over $500 million.
Back on the agenda for discussion this week, Illuminati said the settlement agreement called for Wicomico to receive more than $128,000 by this fall.
“The attorney general’s office, along with the numerous other parties involved, formed an agreement to distribute the funds from the settlement,” he explained. “It looks like the payment of those funds is going to be made.”
In addition to the payment, Illuminati noted the county would be eligible to receive grant funding for abatement as part of the settlement.
“The total guarantee over 18 years is over $1.8 million,” he explained.
But Illuminati said it may not be the only opportunity the county has to receive settlement funding. He noted pending litigation involving retail pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS could result in additional compensation.
“The belief of outside counsel is there will be another massive settlement agreement,” he said, “which could be additional abatement revenue for the county.”
When asked how the county’s settlement money could be used, Illuminati said it depended on how the term “abatement” is defined.
“It’s unknown at this point,” he replied. “We need better guidance.”
Under the settlement agreement, the distributors will also adopt extensive monitoring and reporting programs to address suspicious orders and diversion of opioids, and Johnson & Johnson will cease its sale of opioids.
“No amount of money could ever compensate for the devastation wrought by the opioid epidemic,” Frosh said in a statement. “But these settlements will bring much needed funds to address the harms Marylanders have suffered. The funds will provide addiction treatment, prevention, and other abatement programs across the State to help Marylanders recover.”