State attorney general offers details on local portion of $26 billion opioid settlement

Published 12:04 am Friday, February 10, 2023

SALISBURY — Local officials heard details on Rowan County’s $15 million share of the national $26 billion opioid settlement from the country’s three largest drug distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — and one manufacturer, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and its parent company Johnson & Johnson.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein visited Salisbury on Thursday and was joined by county leaders including Rowan County Commissioner Chairman Greg Edds, Rowan County Public Health Director Alyssa Harris, Rowan County EMS Chief Brian Edwards and Rowan County Department of Social Services Director Micah Ennis as they detailed how the funds will be used.

The three drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson were sued for their role in the opioid epidemic and agreed to pay, with North Carolina’s share coming to $757 million that will be paid over the next 18 years.  The first payments from these settlements were received by North Carolina’s state and local governments starting May 31, 2022 and will be used to address the opioid epidemic through treatment, recovery, harm reduction and other life-saving programs and services.

“I’m honored that you all are here today. I really appreciate you taking the time as we talk about this absolutely devastating crisis,” Stein said. “We are actually in the deadliest moment of what is the deadliest epidemic in the history of this country.”

Stein was one of the creators of a national bipartisan coalition of nearly every attorney general in the country that has sued numerous drug companies to hold them accountable for their role in the current opioid epidemic.

Along with the $26 billion settlement with the three drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson, the coalition is also suing major pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, along with a couple others drug manufacturers for over $20 billion. North Carolina could receive another $600 million from that settlement.

In 2020, overdose deaths increased by 40% in North Carolina from 2019 and jumped another 15% in 2021, Stein said. Overdose deaths now outnumber those from traffic accidents.

Harris announced the five strategies the public health department is focused on to address the opioid epidemic:

  1. Collaborative strategic planning to address opioid misuse, addiction, overdose, or related issues, including staff support, facilitation services or any combination of these activities.
  2. Early intervention.
  3. Naxolone distribution.
  4. Post-overdose response teams.
  5. Harm reduction services.

The county will use the money to implement these strategies in three-year increments. The fourth year will be used to evaluate how the money was used and see if there are more effective ways to use the funds. Almost $2 million was paid to the county the first year, with a little over $1 million being paid out in year two and three.