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City opts to participate in opioid settlement

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Springfield City Council authorized the city’s participation in a national opioids settlement with drug manufacturer Janssen, in time to meet the Jan. 2, 2022, deadline to sign on.

City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader updated council at a special meeting Dec. 21. She noted the opioid crisis has triggered a national one, and states, including Missouri, have filed litigation against manufacturers and distributors.

For the suit against Janssen, states had to choose whether to participate, and then local subdivisions had to sign on. An insufficient number of local participants would cause the settlement agreement to collapse, according to Lewsader.

Lewsader said that as of Dec. 17, allocation information was not available on the Missouri attorney general’s website.

Lewsader said although insufficient information has been provided to political subdivisions in Missouri, the city has been advised by outside legal counsel to sign on. Subdivisions in Missouri will share 15% of the state’s share of the national settlement, with Missouri keeping 85%.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer, who sponsored the bill to participate, objected to the 85/15 split as an inequitable distribution of resources.

“Local communities are at the tip of the spear of fighting the problem that opioids have caused,” Hosmer said. “It seems like we should get a better distribution of those proceeds.”

Councilperson Andrew Lear agreed.

“The purpose of this settlement and these funds is to alleviate the negative impact on communities of opioid abuse, and to me that seems to be borne by the localities,” Lear said. “While I believe this is absolutely a step we need to take to ensure our participation, I would hope that we would be able to receive a larger cut once these negotiations are concluded.”

Lewsader said negotiations are ongoing, and the percentage to be shared by political subdivisions could change.

Hosmer noted municipalities throughout the state have racked up expenses from the opioid crisis through their law enforcement offices, fire departments, first responders and public health departments, as well as the cost of rising crime. For this reason, Hosmer said he hopes the political subdivisions’ share is closer to 50% – “Resources we could use to fight the opioid epidemic,” he said.

Opioids include heroin but also painkillers, such as morphine and hydrocodone. They affect the part of the brain that controls breathing, and thus an overdose can lead to respiratory and cardiac arrest.

A news release from the city explains Springfield and other local and state governments filed litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors, and over 3,000 of these were combined in multidistrict litigation to streamline procedural issues. On July 21, the plaintiffs’ executive committee announced the terms of a global settlement agreement with Janssen and several drug distributors.

The settlement is structured so that states receive more settlement funds if a higher percentage of their political subdivisions agree to participate, and political subdivisions receive incentive settlement funds if they agree to participate by Jan. 2, 2022, the release states. Missouri has chosen to participate in the global settlement; however, the state did not provide allocation terms or draft agreements for political subdivisions for much of the 120-day period during which the subdivisions considered whether to participate.

The amount of funds Springfield will receive is dependent on participation levels of other political subdivisions, as well as the allocation amount determined by the state.

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