North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein this week joined three other state attorneys general in calling for a single $48 billion dollar settlement with five major pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic. All 50 U.S. states would receive money under the proposed settlement.
Here are some reactions to the deal from rural leaders in Western North Carolina:
In the Haywood County Health Department warehouse, Jesse Lee Dunlap takes stock of supplies. The NC Harm Reduction Coalition's work in the county battling addiction goes deeper than just syringe exchanges and naloxone, says Dunlap.
“There is a lot of delivering syringes to people who use intravenous drugs but a lot of what we do is finding housing, food and medical treatment for people with substance use disorder,” they say.
They hope funding from the proposed settlement includes money for those basic needs.
The proposed settlement would set aside $26 billion dollars for free suboxone, a medication that treats addiction, explains Dunlap.
“Getting access to that treatment is something we fight and struggle with every day for our participants so it’s really exciting to hear that there is going to be more access,” they say.
Giving money to treatment and prevention - as well as holding pharma companies accountable – are key says state Representative Kevin Corbin of Western North Carolina. The Republican represents District 120 which covers Cherokee, Clay, Macon and Graham county.
“You’ve got to stop people from getting on that conveyer belt of addiction and then also help them once they are addicted,” says Corbin.
While this deal will bring much-needed funding to the region, all 50 states will need to agree for this deal to go through. Corbin hopes the state will work with the statewide municipalities and county commissioners organizations for consensus on the deal - and how to distribute the money.
“I think all of us rural legislators are very aware that sometimes these funding formulas often benefit urban areas more than rural because it’s designed on a per capita basis,” says Corbin, adding that the legislature distributes other state funding using specificly designed formulas.
Chairman of the Graham County Commissioners Dale Wiggins also hopes that rural communities are particularly kept in mind during settlement negotiations.
“You know it’s a human being thing so I hope it doesn’t become a political thing - especially with these settlements that are going to be coming down,” says Wiggins.
Wiggins isn’t ready to commit to a global framework yet but he’s ready to see funding from these pharmaceutical companies come to Graham County.
“To me it has to be a program that is designed to be successful - you know get boots on the ground, get treatment,” says Wiggins.
All three wonder if the settlement will bring enough money to help. Dunlap says it bluntly:
“I mean it’s not even near enough, because you are dividing that $48 billion by 50 states. Oh no.”
This deal is only with five pharmaceutical companies and distributors but the attorneys general hope that it can be a framework for future deals.