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SLO County lines up for national opioid settlement funds 

Central Coast communities could benefit from recently settled national opioid litigation, as California counties and cities are poised to receive more than $1 billion in remediation to help stem the raging opioid epidemic.

click to enlarge OPIOID EPIDEMIC SLO County and its cities are in line to receive $16.5 million as part of a settlement in national opioid litigation. - FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • File Photo By Steve E. Miller
  • OPIOID EPIDEMIC SLO County and its cities are in line to receive $16.5 million as part of a settlement in national opioid litigation.

As much as $16.5 million could be coming to San Luis Obispo County and its cities as part of that haul—just a sliver of the overall $26 billion settlement reached between hundreds of states and counties across the U.S. and opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen and manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

In 2018, SLO County joined as a plaintiff on the burgeoning national lawsuit that accused the Big Pharma companies of fueling the opioid crisis by downplaying the addiction risks of their prescription drugs.

Now, SLO County and six local cities are eligible to participate in the resulting settlements, but they have to decide to do so before a January deadline, according to Brian Stack, a deputy attorney in the SLO County Counsel's Office.

"There are a lot of layers to this," Stack told New Times. "Even if some of the cities hadn't joined the lawsuit, they have the ability to join the settlement and increase the allocation that comes to the state. These funds will be made available on an annual basis and then the county will have to come up with qualifying uses for those funds."

At Dec. 7 meetings, the SLO and Paso Robles city councils voted to participate in the settlement. In doing so, they agreed to waive their right to sue the companies over local opioid impacts.

"They [the drug companies] want to get as many entities to release claims against them as possible," Stack explained.

Stack noted that some litigation is still pending in the sprawling national case, so future settlements (and their payouts) are likely on the horizon.

According to preliminary estimates, the recent settlement agreement would deliver $1.24 million and $692,000 to the cities of SLO and Paso Robles, respectively, handed out over a 17- or 18-year period. Between SLO County and the six cities, a total of $16.5 million is available if all entities join.

Cities that join then must decide whether they want to receive their share of the settlement directly or have the county administer it for them. The Paso Robles City Council opted for the latter, since spending the settlement dollars comes with its own administrative costs.

"Our share of this lawsuit is about $38,000 a year, and the reason we're not saying that money should come to us is because it would cost us as much money as that just to administer the program," Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin said at the meeting. "It's most cost effective to run it through the county."

The SLO City Council decided not to make that decision yet, with city officials noting that the impending deadline only concerns the decision of whether or not to participate in the settlement.

Once the settlement funds are dispersed, the county and cities are required to spend it on qualified uses that pertain to fighting the opioid crisis. Those areas include intervention, treatment, education, recovery, and prevention of opioid use and related disorders.

Janna Nichols, executive director of the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, told the Paso Robles City Council during public comment that the funding couldn't come soon enough, as her nonprofit confronts the devastating impact of opioids every day.

"I was just training with staff on Friday on how to administer Narcan to minimize the effects of a drug overdose," Nichols said. "This is a very real issue, and we have significant challenges ahead of us." Δ

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