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NC Counties Prepare For National $26 Billion Opioid Settlement

There are 100 counties in North Carolina. Large cites and municipalities are also part of the MOA.

An estimated $26 billion-dollars could soon be coming to counties all across the country from a financial settlement involving opioid manufacturers.  BPR reports that county governments in North Carolina are already making plans for that money:

A federal court in Ohio is deciding the settlement for a case that includes roughly 3,000 lawsuits against three pharmaceutical companies and Johnson & Johnson.

Kevin Leonard, the executive director of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, says counties are the level of government that have felt the impact of opioid addiction most – as most treatment services come from them.

“Counties are deeply engaged and concerned about the impacts of the opioid crisis because they are on the frontlines of this crisis and have been for well over a decade now,” said Leonard.  

That’s where an agreement between counties – known as an MOA - comes into play, explains Leonard.

“So each state is responsible for coming up with its own allocation agreement and so that’s where the association has played a role representing all 100 counties with the [NC] Department of Justice,” said Leonard. The MOA was released about a month ago.

For the state to receive the maximum payout under the settlement, all of North Carolina’s 100 counties plus cities and municipalities need to sign on.  

“A bit of a daunting task to come up with something that everyone agrees upon but that’s the job of our association,” said Leonard.  

The agreement covers the settlement focused on five companies: the “big three” drug distributors Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen plus the opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, and the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma – which is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.

The agreementdoesn’t include the nearly $19 million McKinsey settlement announced in February 2021.

The agreement outlines how North Carolina’s part of the settlement - which is expected to be about $850 million dollars over 18-years – will be distributed. By already agreeing to how the money will be spent, Leonard says the funding can be given out faster.

“We are trying to be as prepared as we can to try to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” said Leonard.  

Eighty percent of the funds would go to county governments and large cities in North Carolina - with outlines on how its must be spent.   

“When that national settlement does occur, we are already way ahead of the game,” said Leonard. He hopes the settlement will be announced soon.  

So far, just 19 out of 100 counties have signed onto the state MOA, including four from Western North Carolina. It’s on the agenda for commissioners in the region’s two largest, Buncombe and Henderson, next month.   

The counties that have signed on are: Burke, Catawba, Cherokee, Forsyth, Graham, Haywood, Hyde, Jackson, Jones, Martin, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, Person, Perquimans, Robeson, Scotland, Wake, and Yadkin.

Updated on July 15th: There are now 38 counties signed on. The additional counties are:  Avery, Bladen, Buncombe, Cleveland, Columbus, Edgecombe, Gaston, Guilford, Halifax, Henderson, Johnston, Macon, Mitchell, Montgomery, New Hanover, Orange, Rutherford, Stanly and Washington.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.