Cuyahoga County successfully sued several makers and distributors of opiates for their role in encouraging and expanding the use of opiates in this country.
The problem has reached crisis levels, both nationally and locally. In Cuyahoga County, approximately 700 people have died per year in the last couple years, despite our best efforts at prevention, emergency treatment with naloxone, and longer term treatment for addiction.
There are thousands of such lawsuits around the country. However, Cuyahoga County was able to become one of the lead plaintiffs, and as a result, achieved early settlements which are almost certainly larger than almost all of what other plaintiffs will receive. In the first round, Cuyahoga County settled with Allergan, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt, and Johnson & Johnson for a total of $23.2 million after legal fees. Because of the settlements, we received cash payments almost immediately, rather than having to wait years for appeals.
At the advice of our legal counsel, County Executive Armond Budish and Council President Brady issued a statement before the next round of cases, proposing how the $23.2 million would be spent. While the proposal still needs legislative approval, it reflects our commitment to use all of the settlement dollars for prevention and treatment related to the opiate crises and gives a good indication of how the money will likely be used, as follows:
Thrive Emergency Department Program to help people recovering from overdoses to get into treatment, $3.0 million
Diversion Center, to health people who are mentally ill or have addiction problems to receive treatment, rather than incarceration, $2.5 million
Prosecutor’s Office staff—2 crime analysts and 4 Department of Children & Family Services prosecutors, $1.1 million
ADAMHS (Addiction & Mental Health Services Board) and St. Vincent Charity Hospital for 32 additional inpatient beds to serve 260 additional patients and expansion of Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization programs to server 312 additional people, $5.4 million
4th Drug Court and expansion of electronic monitoring, $3.0 million
MetroHealth to create separate units in the jail to treat substance abuse and prevent suicide, $1.72 million
MetroHealth to create an opiate treatment program in the jail which will be federally licensed, $930,000
Department of Children & Family Services, Board & Care of children, $1 million
Department of Children & Family Services START (sobriety, treatment and recovery teams) additional staffing, $3.5 million
Medical Examiner’s Office new staff, including a new full-time epidemiologist and social worker, $600,000
Family & Children First Council, Additional K-12 educational training, $400,000
Jury Selection for the trial with the remaining defendants began on October 16, 2019, but on Monday, October 21st, settlements were reached with four additional defendants—Cardinal Health, McKesson, Amerisource Bergen, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, which are expected to yield an additional $104 million in cash payments, after legal fees. There may be additional recoveries from others in the future, but these settlements will comprise most of it.
On Tuesday, October 22nd Councilman Schron introduced legislation, which I co-sponsored, to create a separate fund to account for all of the money received and spent from the opiate cases. This will improve transparency and help ensure that all of the money is spent for prevention and treatment related to the opiate crisis. The legislation will be heard in the Finance & Budgeting Committee on Monday, November 4th at 1 PM.
One suggestion that I have for future use of opiate money is to engage block clubs, Community Development Corporations, and the Faith-based Community to do a deep grass-roots, door-to-door community organizing campaign to make everyone in our community aware of the dangers of opiates, to improve rapid-response capabilities, and to help get people dealing with addiction disorders into treatment.
Note: Council’s Finance Staff Person Trevor McAleer and other council staff get almost all of the credit for the detailed information in this article, which leans heavily on their staff briefing to Council.