Snohomish County signs on for share of mega opioid settlement

Mukilteo and Lake Stevens are on board too. If all goes as planned, the first payments from a $518M deal will arrive in December.

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EVERETT — Add Snohomish County to the list of jurisdictions seeking a slice of the state’s half-billion dollar settlement with three of the nation’s largest opioid distributors.

The County Council on Wednesday unanimously agreed to participate in the deal that could net the county $1.75 million in December and $14.9 million through 2039 for use in combating the opioid epidemic.

In the same motion, the council agreed to dismiss a lawsuit it filed against the same distributors three years ago.

“From overdose deaths to homelessness, we can see the damage from the epidemic in every part of the county,” County Executive Dave Somers said in a statement Wednesday. “While this settlement can’t begin to compensate us for all of the death, suffering and expense, it is a start.”

The action wasn’t a surprise. Snohomish County and 130 other cities, counties and school districts face a Sept. 23 deadline to sign and submit paperwork to the state Attorney General’s Office agreeing on how dollars will be allocated, spent and accounted for.

If too many hold out, the agreement announced in May by Attorney General Bob Ferguson could be derailed.

As of Tuesday evening, 37 jurisdictions, including King County, had turned in the forms, according to a running tally posted on the attorney general’s website. Mukilteo and Lake Stevens are among them.

Under the proposed settlement, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. will pay $518 million to Washington in the next 17 years for use by cities, counties and the state in combating the effects of opioid use disorder.

The resolution ended a six-month trial on allegations by the state that the firms helped fuel the epidemic by shipping huge amounts of oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone and other prescription opioids into the state, even when they knew — or should have known — they might wind up with drug dealers or those already addicted.

The companies rejected the accusations. They said they merely supplied opioids that had been prescribed by doctors, and it wasn’t their role to second-guess the prescriptions or interfere in doctor-patient relationships. And the deal finds no wrongdoing on their part.

The vast majority from the three distributors, $476.2 million, will be split between the state and local governments and is intended for addiction treatment, prevention services, opioid education and other programs to address the societal impacts of the opioid epidemic. The remainder of money is for attorneys’ fees and includes $10.9 million for legal expenses incurred by the entities that sued.

Up to $215 million is earmarked for local governments. Snohomish County and 11 cities are eligible to receive annual payments starting in December. Per the deal, recipients will get a double payment the first year.

The formula for allocating dollars is based on three factors: the amount of opioids shipped to a county, the number of opioid deaths in that county and the number of people who suffer opioid use disorder in county. Such data does not exist for cities. Under the memorandum of understanding, federal data on opioid-related expenditures is used to determine shares for cities.

Among local cities, Everett could receive the largest sum, around $4.14 million. The City Council is expected to approve joining the settlement at a meeting next week. Mukilteo is in line for $551,000 and Lake Stevens nearly $300,000.

For Mukilteo, it works out to about $32,411 a year. Not a windfall, but money the city wouldn’t otherwise be getting for this effort, Mayor Joe Marine said.

“We’re never going to hire an attorney and go after them on our own. And we are not immune to people dying from overdoses,” he said. “We know we need to do something that works with this money. What really works is if we can bring everybody together on one thing.”

Marysville is on board too. It’s in line for nearly $849,000 with a cut of $100,000 this year and annual payments of nearly $50,000 thereafter.

“We have programs locally we can invest in,” Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said. “If we pooled everything (in the county) maybe we can all do something a little more dramatic. The problem is so substantial, we’re open to a broader cooperative effort.”

Somers said he’s on board with that.

“We want to partner with local communities to maximize the use of these settlement dollars to address the direct and indirect impacts of opioids,” he said.

One of the critical conditions of the deal requires 37 cities, counties and school districts — including Snohomish County and the city of Everett — which sued the same three drug distributors on their own to dismiss their cases and agree to the settlement terms. If even one municipality doesn’t agree, it could scuttle the deal. The deadline to act is also Sept. 23.

But the county can continue its legal action against opioid maker Purdue Pharma, as well as pharmacies, and some individual doctors.

“While this settlement would resolve the lawsuit against the three distributors, there are additional defendants who will need to address our claims,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jason Cummings said in a statement. “We believe the evidence of culpability is strong, and Snohomish County will continue to seek a fair and equitable resolution.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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