Fulton County Board of Supervisors signs on to $26B opioid settlement

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to approve signing onto to the $26 billion lawsuit settlement agreement with the “Big Three” opioid distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — which will net the county at least $686,427 over an 18-year-period.

Fulton County is one of many local governments and states that signed onto litigation started by Suffolk County against Purdue Pharma L.P. and other companies involved in the production, distribution and sale of opioid drugs sold by prescription us painkillers — such as OxyContin and Vicodin — which have been blamed for sparking the opioid crisis in the U.S. linked to more than 500,000 deaths since 2000.

“[AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson] contributed to the opioid epidemic by failing to comply with their obligations under the federal Controlled Substances Act and the New York Controlled Substances Act to implement adequate measures to prevent diversion of the prescription opioids they distributed to pharmacies and others in Suffolk County, all of which contributed to a public health crisis in Fulton County,” reads the resolution approved by the Board of Supervisors.

According to New York state’s July 2021 County Opioid Quarterly Report, the number of opioid overdose deaths in Fulton County doubled from 6 in 2019 to 12 in 2020.

In New York state, excluding New York City, the number of opioid overdose deaths increased from 1,788 in 2019 to 2,338 in 2020.

Fulton County’s decision to settle the lawsuit with the three distributors comes on the heels of the Sept. 4 announcement from AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, as well as drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, that enough states had signed onto the proposed $26 billion settlement deal for the companies to proceed, which set up a Jan. 2 deadline for local governments to sign-on to the deal or choose to continue litigation against the companies.

“It is in the best interest of the County of Fulton to resolve this matter with respect to the distributors without further litigation and enter into the proposed agreement as it shall settle all allegations against the distributors and avoid protracted litigation,” reads the resolution approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The Big Three distributors and drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson have indicated they will accept the terms of the settlement agreement, so long as enough local governments agree to it, and the more governments that sign on the greater the payout will be to each of them.

If the bare minimum number of local governments agreed to the deal by Jan. 2, Fulton County will receive $686,427, but if all of them agree to it the payout could grow to as high as $1.2 million.

The Johnson & Johnson settlement is separate. In August, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, as well as the Montgomery County Legislature, agreed to settle litigation against Johnson & Johnson with a potential payout range of $112,981 to $263,673.

The Associated Press has reported that the $26 billion settlement agreement includes the requirement that local governments agree to put most of their settlement shares toward drug treatment and education programs and other measures to fight the epidemic.

Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young said it remains unclear to him exactly what strings will be attached to the spending of the settlement funds.

“What we have yet to see is what the restrictions will be on the use,” he said. “It seems that most of the money will be restricted to the prevention and treatment of the opioid epidemic. Which is a little frustrating, because in dealing with the opioid crisis it has meant deferring spending that would have gone for other areas, which is why we were hoping to see more unrestricted funds in recognition that there were other areas that we would have liked to have spent more, but we had the immediate needs of human services and law enforcement and all of that that goes into responding to opioid addiction.”

In the “New York state Opioid Annual Report 2020”, state officials attempted to calculate an “Opioid Burden” score for each of the state’s 62-counties in 2018 that took into account the number of opioid overdose deaths, non-fatal outpatient visits and hospital discharges involving opioid overdose, abuse, dependence and unspecified use, measured against the size of the county’s population. In 2018 Fulton County had 134 incidents that fit into those categories, giving it a Opioid Burden score of 250, which ranks roughly 36th among New York state’s counties.

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors also went into executive session Monday to discuss another piece of outstanding litigation regarding the opioid crisis, but would not discuss it after the session.

Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, remains the final defendant in the lawsuit, that has approximately 3,000 plaintiffs, but the settlement with the firm has been complicated by a bankruptcy proceeding, that could ultimately include a $10 billion settlement of the lawsuit.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

By Paul Wager