© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Florida To Get $1.6B In Opioid Settlement


Florida is set to receive $1.6 billion from a historic $26 billion settlement of numerous lawsuits over the nationwide opioid addiction epidemic.

“Last year, we actually had the highest number of overdose deaths related to opioids that we’ve ever seen in the country; almost 90,000 drug-related deaths. And about 80% of those were opioids,” said Dr. Barbara Andraka-Christou, an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida in the Schools of Health Management and Medicine, and an expert on substance-abuse-disorder treatment and policy.

The settlement involves about 3,000 individual cases against a quartet of pharmaceutical giants: Johnson & Johnson; AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.

“Those have individually been in the works for years,” said Andraka-Christou. “However, the settlement that was initiated between 14 states and these four companies; three distributors, and one manufacturer — that settlement process has been in the works for about two years.”

The negotiations reaching the settlement, says Andraka-Christou, were rather painstaking and complex.

“You can imagine each state has had a high level of impact from the opioid crisis, and the policymakers in those states want to make sure that they will get enough money to help address the harms that have been caused to that state,” said Andraka-Christou. “And a lot of stakeholders want to see big money, basically.”

One risk is that some individual cases could strike out on their own and not be a part of the settlement — possibly making more money.

“The problem with having the individual cases go on their own, as opposed to one large settlement, is that there’s no guarantee that the company would stay in business after all the money was spent on the individual cases,” Andraka-Christou said. “In fact, it might go bankrupt just as last year occurred with Perdue Pharma.”

So the idea here, says Andraka-Christou, is the policymakers hope to get the guaranteed money and not have the firms go bankrupt. And she adds that when the dollars are handed out, this will not be another 1990s tobacco settlement where only about 3% t of the proceeds was used to abate the crisis caused by smoking.

“Instead, over here what we’re seeing is that 85% of the money would have to go to treatment and abatement measures of the opioid crisis,” she said. “So it’s not just the dollar amount that’s huge, it’s how those dollars are intended to be spent.”

In Florida, the $1.6 billion will be split between local, state, and regional accounts — and then go largely to treatment facilities. Local governments have until Jan. 2 to decide if they will seek a portion.

“And there’s other ways in which the money will be spent, such as treatment inside the criminal justice system; [and] prevention programs,” said Andraka-Christou. “But, ultimately the important thing is the money is not going into just general revenue that could be spent on, who knows what, highways and what have you.”

The amount of money coming to Florida and the other 13 states, is calculated by their populations and the severity of the crisis in that particular state — such as the opioid death rate. Plus, there’s also incentive money available in some instances.

“So the dollar amount that Florida gets is actually dependent not just on the formula of the severity of the crisis and the population, but also how many local governments the Florida state government can tie into this lawsuit,” she said.

There’s no word just yet on how much incentive cash is involved. The $26 billion question posed to UCF’s Barbara Andraka-Christou is: What kind of dent will this put into the opioid crisis?

That, she replied, is hard to say, since local decision-makers will have the final call.

“Is it going to go truly to paying for, let’s say, medications to treat opioid use disorder, or is it going to go to more administrative costs?” Andraka-Christou asked. “I don’t know, but I’m personally very excited about the prominence in the settlement agreement of the medication for opioid use disorder.”

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady has issued a proclamation establishing September 2021 as Awareness Month on Opioids and Stimulants Crises in the Sunshine State.