A historic $26 billion settlement is in the works to resolve claims that the three largest U.S. drug distributors played a role in the opioid epidemic.
Of that $26 billion settlement, California may receive nearly $2 billion that would require the country’s major medical distributors to pay for addiction treatment and prevention.
U.S. drug distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, have been accused of turning a blind eye while massive amounts of addictive painkillers were diverted into illegal channels. Johnson & Johnson was also accused of downplaying the addiction risk in opioid marketing.
The companies have denied the allegations.
"The opioids were overprescribed, over delivered and over-pushed, because it was so absurdly profitable,” said Stillwater Behavioral Health CEO, Nick Matthews.
In San Luis Obispo County, health department officials say opioid-related deaths have gone up over 60% since 2016.
"More than 80% of those deaths are what's called polydrug related, so it's multiple drugs… and we are seeing a growth in fentanyl-related deaths," said SLO County Prevention and Outreach Division Manager, Frank Warren.
Under the settlement proposal, the three drug distributors are expected to pay a combined $21 billion, while J&J would pay $5 billion. Money from the proposed settlement would be used towards relief for those with opioid addictions.
Warren says nothing is confirmed on their receiving end of the settlement, but if granted the funding, they would invest in programs for naloxone, an overdose reverse medicine.
"We need to get more outreach. We need to get education and intervention far beyond our schools and far beyond our doctor's offices,” Warren said.
From the settlement's announcement - states have 30 days to sign onto the deal and local governments and participating states will have up to 150 days to join. Matthews says it's a necessary step to prevent this type of crisis from happening again.
"These funds really should be used for awareness, education and reducing the harm that's already been done,” said Matthews.
For those struggling with opioid addictions - addiction specialists recommend taking the step to ask for help through the county's behavioral health clinic and other resources.
County of San Luis Obispo Behavioral Health: (800) 838-1381.
Santa Barabra County Department of Behavioral Wellness: (888) 868-1649