Michigan opioid settlement funds to be distributed statewide

Counties across the state of Michigan, including Huron and Tuscola, are set to receive funds due to the nationwide class action lawsuit against the opioid epidemic

The litigation was brought against three drug companies, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, along with opioid distributor Johnson and Johnson, for their role in the opioid epidemic that has claimed more than half a million lives over the past two decades. Due to this settlement, states are being compensated for the trouble it has brought to local governments and municipalities. In the Janssen Settlement Agreement, the state of Michigan was awarded $108,616,127.86, which will be distributed to counties that have been affected by the drugs.

“I am relieved the court ruled in accordance with the law, and I thank the judge for the keen attention she paid to this important matter,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “It’s critical that communities throughout Michigan are indemnified for the harm they suffered due to the recklessness of the opioid manufacturers and distributors. The frivolous challenge by Ottawa County delayed millions of dollars from being put to good use to help Michigan residents and our communities recover.” 

Years ago, Tuscola and Huron counties were approached by state officials who asked if the governments wanted to participate in the lawsuit. The counties then had to gather information on how the epidemic had affected the county and its residents, which included data from the health and sheriff’s departments that showed arrests, overdoses, and other matters that involved opioids. 

Each county will be given a certain amount of money based on the calculated data received from the area. In the settlement, Huron County will be given $75,657.37 while Tuscola will receive $222,049.77. The funds will be released over five payments over the course of the year, being distributed to counties starting by the end of this month. 

The settlement funds were supposed to be received and distributed by the state as early as last year, but after a dispute by Ottawa County, distribution was pushed back. After the legal challenges were dismissed, the state and counties should start to receive funds from the settlement as early as Jan. 31. 

Within the settlement, local governments will face difficult decisions to determine the best use for the funds. Counties and state governments must abide by five principles to decide where the funds will go when choosing how to spend them, set by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: 

  1. Spend money to save lives:  Jurisdictions should use the funds to supplement rather than replace existing spending.
  2. Use evidence to guide spending: States and localities should use information from researchers and clinicians that have built a substantial body of evidence demonstrating what works and what doesn’t when making funding decisions. 
  3. Invest in youth prevention: States and localities should support children, youth, and families by making long-term investments in effective programs and strategies for community change. 
  4. Focus on racial equity: States and localities should direct significant funds to communities affected by years of discriminatory policies and now experiencing substantial increases in overdoses. 
  5. Develop a fair and transparent process for deciding where to spend the funding: This process should be guided by public health leaders with the active engagement of people and families with lived experience, clinicians, as well as other key groups.

Tuscola County has plans to form a task force to determine where and what the funds from the settlement will go toward in the county. The county controller/administrator and commissioners for Tuscola County decided that would be the best plan of action during last Monday’s committee meeting of the whole. 

“I want to get the parties involved that work around this and see this firsthand such as the sheriff, health department, behavioral health,” said Tuscola County Controller Clayette Zechmeister. “I envision seeing this task force made up of whatever parties that need to be in it to be able to review the information and make sure we spend the money the best way to serve our citizens that have struggled through this opioid addiction.” 

Huron County’s board of commissioners has briefly talked about the settlement and what to do with the funds, but is waiting to receive the money first. 

“My best guess is we won’t discuss it until we get the funding,” said Huron County Executive Assistant Jodi Essenmacher. 

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