A primary care room in the medical wing of the medically managed withdrawal program at Bridgeway, where patients can detox from drugs and alcohol, on Thursday, Jan. 28. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem, Marion and Polk counties could get millions for substance abuse prevention as part of a national settlement that opioid distributors have just over five weeks to agree to.

The roughly $26 billion settlement would settle thousands of lawsuits filed by cities, counties and tribal governments across the U.S. against opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen, as well as manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its parent company Johnson & Johnson.

The suits alleged deceptive distribution and marketing practices contributed to a wave of addiction and drug overdose deaths and saddled cities and counties with millions in public health and criminal justice system costs.

The pharmaceutical companies have until Feb. 25 to sign on to the settlement or go forward with litigation. 

“They can back out anytime they want, and for any reason,” said Tom D’Amore, a Portland-based attorney representing nine Oregon counties that sued. “We don't think that'll happen. We think they're very happy to get this thing behind them for the $26 billion, and the fact that nobody can sue them again.”

Salem never sued, and neither did Marion and Polk counties. But any U.S. jurisdiction, like a city or county, with more than 10,000 people can sign on to get a percentage cut of the settlement. The number who that sign on determines how much of the $26 billion will be distributed.

“Hopefully this thing will be will be done on Feb. 25, and the funds will slowly start coming in maybe as early as April,” D’Amore said.

In a statement Dec. 20, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced a tentative agreement with Oregon cities and counties to allocate around $329 million from the national settlement.

D’Amore said Oregon is one of the few states where all eligible cities and counties have joined the settlement, with The Dalles being the last jurisdiction to join on Jan. 11. Only four states have declined altogether.

He said local governments must use the funds for preventing and treating opioid abuse. 

A little over half of Oregon’s total will go to cities, counties and tribes. The settlement would allocate about 3% of Oregon’s funds for Salem, according to the distributor settlement agreement. That would amount to around $5.5 million if 100% of jurisdictions nationwide signed on.

Of the statewide total, the agreement showed about 4.1% would be allocated to Marion County and about .7% to Polk County – around $7.5 million and $1.3 million, respectively.

Rosenblum wrote in her statement that the rest will go to a fund dedicated gathering and publishing data about substance use prevention and treatment services, as well as treating and preventing substance use disorders throughout the state.

The Marion County Board of Commissioners approved participating in the settlement, but the county doesn't yet know how much it will receive or when, county spokesman Jon Heynen said. 

Salem spokeswoman Courtney Knox-Busch said city officials haven’t discussed how they would use funds from the settlement. “We don’t yet know how much Salem would be eligible to receive. We do know that the proposed settlement limits the use of the funds to prevention, treatment and recovery,” she said in an email.

Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope said the Board of Commissioners hasn’t discussed the county’s share of the settlement and thus hasn’t committed to a plan for investing it. “We would likely commit all of it to treatment protocols as I expect the settlement would dictate,” he said in an email.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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