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Philadelphia has joined a $1 billion opioid settlement with every county in Pa., AG says

The settlement ultimately won Philadelphia’s buy-in before a midnight deadline Wednesday, after months of criticism from city officials.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 6, 2022.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 6, 2022.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photographer

After criticizing the national opioid settlement, Philadelphia officials, along with those of every other county in Pennsylvania, signed on to the deal that is expected to deliver $1 billion to the state for drug treatment and prevention, and close out one chapter of legal wrangling over the costs of the deadly and decades-long opioid crisis.

The settlement negotiated by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and other states’ AGs ultimately won Philadelphia’s buy-in before a midnight deadline Wednesday night, after months of pushback from Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner, who had argued that the settlement amount was too low, and its 18-year payout schedule too long, for a city among those hit hardest by the drug epidemic.

Philadelphia’s share would come to at least $186 million, according to the AG’s office. The mayor’s office said the city would receive additional funding “due to the scale of the impact and devastation that the opioid epidemic has wrought on the city and our residents.” But officials didn’t immediately say how much.

» READ MORE: Here’s how much each Pa. county will get from the opioid settlement

The city and Krasner’s office each filed lawsuits against drugmakers and distributors — and Krasner confirmed Thursday that he did not join the settlement and would continue to pursue his case against the companies.

Funding from what Shapiro called a “historic agreement” will begin flowing as soon as April “to jumpstart programs and ramp up staffing to save the lives of those struggling with opioid addiction,” the attorney general said in a statement Thursday. “This agreement marks the most significant influx of resources to our commonwealth to address this epidemic, jet-fueled by greedy pharmaceutical companies.”

National deal on opioids

The $26 billion national settlement is intended to resolve several thousand lawsuits against drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, which is based in New Jersey, and the country’s three major pharmaceutical distributors: AmerisourceBergen, which is headquartered in Conshohocken, Texas-based McKesson, and Cardinal Health in Ohio. The companies have not admitted any wrongdoing under the agreement.

The distributors said in a joint statement last month that they “remain deeply concerned about the impact the opioid epidemic is having on communities across the nation and remain committed to being part of the solution.” Johnson & Johnson has said that the crisis is a “tremendously complex public health issue,” and that it stopped selling prescription opioids in the United States as part of “ongoing efforts to focus on transformational innovation.”

In the Philadelphia region, the four suburban counties will receive as much as $147.7 million combined, the AG’s office said.

The maximum payouts possible break down as $45 million for Bucks, $19.2 million for Chester, $48.5 million for Delaware, and $35 million for Montgomery.

How counties will use the money

Delaware County was first to file an opioid lawsuit against drug companies, in 2017 in state court. The county will also receive some additional money from a $30 million pool because of its work on opioid litigation. Philadelphia is receiving $13 million from the pool, which counts toward the $186 million settlement share. Carbon County will get a portion of this pool, too.

The settlement money is to be used for programs and services such as treatment of opioid use disorder, distribution of such medication as naloxone (commonly known as Narcan), to reverse overdoses, and educational outreach to prevent the over-prescribing of opioids, and discourage misuse.

“Especially during this pandemic. when we see overdose deaths increasing once again, we think we can use these resources to save people’s lives,” Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said in a recent interview. His office sued drug companies in 2019.

» READ MORE: Opioid Addiction Stories

Chester County Board of Commissioners chair Marian Moskowitz said last month that she was “especially interested in increasing the county’s support of prevention efforts,” which could include public awareness campaigns about the harms of opioid abuse.

Spokespeople for Bucks and Montgomery Counties did not elaborate on plans yet for the settlement funds.

A previous national deadline for municipalities to sign up by Jan. 2 was extended to Jan. 26 — and the number of participating Pennsylvania counties crept up over the last month, from 47 counties as of Dec. 29, to all 67 counties by Wednesday night.

Shapiro had urged Pennsylvania municipalities to give up their individual legal fights in exchange for guaranteed settlement funding to combat the epidemic. His office pointed to recent setbacks in litigation elsewhere: Last fall, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a ruling for a $465 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson, while in California cities and counties lost a case against drugmakers at trial.

» READ MORE: Narcan dispensers will be installed in West and South Philadelphia

Reaching the state’s maximum $1 billion dollar payout has depended on how many municipalities join: The more that do, the more money comes into the state. Shapiro said Pennsylvania is on track for that with support from all counties.

The total is payable over 18 years, but about a quarter of the funds — $232 million — are scheduled to come in the first year.

Philly officials lambasted the deal

Mayor Kenney and DA Krasner had criticized the settlement proposal since it was first announced last July, saying the city wouldn’t get enough money under the deal.

A spokesperson for the mayor told The Inquirer last month that the city would “not agree to such a minimal amount of money over a long period of time — and incongruent to the scale of the damage inflicted.”

In 2020, the city had its second-highest death toll on record from drug overdoses: 1,214 people died and 86% of those deaths involved an opioid.

Krasner’s suit is one of just four bellwether cases in the state that would see a courtroom first, though no trial date has been set. The complaints are among dozens of lawsuits filed statewide that are being coordinated in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

Krasner also sought to safeguard his opioid case during the settlement process. He sued Shapiro’s office last summer and asked the state’s Commonwealth Court to rule that the attorney general cannot, as part of the settlement, sweep away the district attorney’s claims against companies.

Shapiro’s office contended that the district attorney lacks authority to sue the attorney general, and that the case was premature while settlement sign-ups were ongoing.

A panel of judges heard arguments on the matter in December and a decision is pending.

“Sadly, there is nothing new about American government selling out to money and power against the interests of the most vulnerable Americans,” Krasner said Thursday. “We as a society can do better. The fight continues.”