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Cincinnati agrees to join Ohio's $456 million settlement with opioid distributors

Mayor had pushed for city to file its own suit
WCPO cincinnati opioid.png
Posted at 6:58 PM, Aug 18, 2021

The city of Cincinnati plans to join a statewide settlement with three large-scale opioid distributors, despite mayor and gubernatorial hopeful John Cranley’s push for a city-specific suit against the companies that contributed to a nationwide opioid epidemic.

Resistance from City Council quashed Cranley’s effort to front a Cincinnati-only suit against AmerisourceBergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health, three of the country’s largest drug distributors.

Instead, the city will join the rest of Ohio in settling and taking a chunk of the total sum.

The final amount depends on the number of local governments that sign on. According to the settlement negotiated by Attorney General Dave Yost, the sum starts at a minimum of $456 million and could rise to as much as $829 million.

Fifteen percent of that money goes to the state. Thirty percent will go directly to local governments like Cincinnati’s, which expects to receive about $3.8 million directly, according to Cranley and City Manager Paula Boggs Muething.

And the remaining 55% will go to a state-managed foundation. Local governments can access this money, but only if they successfully apply for it.

That was the sticking point for Cranley, he said. He wanted more money more directly to deal with the ongoing cost of the opioid epidemic in Cincinnati.

“We believe we can do a lot better in terms of holding these companies accountable in terms of lives lost, and that's our number one goal,” he said Wednesday.

But Councilmember Betsy Sundermann said she supports the foundation and doesn’t share Cranley’s opinion that it takes money away from local governments.

“We’ll be able to have dibs on that money,” she said. “We’ll be able to apply for different projects.”

She also doubted that a city-specific suit would be successful in court when Hamilton County has already joined the larger settlement.

"The trial court will say, ‘$41.6 million is already being allocated to Hamilton County,’” she said. “‘That already exposes Cincinnati. Why should Cincinnati now get a windfall when your jurisdiction has already been covered?’”

No fire engine in the city of Cincinnati leaves its garage without a kit of naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug that can save opioid users’ lives if administered quickly enough. The cost of maintaining that supply in a city hard-hit by heroin use is high — $400,000 since 2017.

The last decade has extracted $6 million from city government hard-pressed to provide addiction-related human services, according to officials. The $3.8 million direct payment the city expects to receive from the settlement won't make up for it.

“It’s something that we respond to every day,” said Cincinnati Fire Department EMS chief Carstel Winston. “In fact, we respond to it multiple times a day.”

The fight against the three distributors at the center of Ohio's settlement is one playing out in multiple states, including West Virginia and New York. The total settlement across all states could be as much as $26 billion, according to NPR.