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Marshall: States’ opioid settlement money should be based on impact

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that if multi-state litigation against Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers is settled, he thinks settlement money should be distributed based on the drugs’ toll on a state, not its population.

“The real battle or issue in that case, as well with any other recovery coming forward, is not so much the recovery of money from the defendant, but in fact how that money gets allocated,” Marshall said.

Marshall, speaking this week at a meeting of Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council, said he wants to make sure that any money received from opioid litigation be invested in reducing addiction in Alabama. He said the council’s plans will help determine how the money will be used.

A federal bankruptcy judge this week agreed to keep nearly 2,700 lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and hundreds more against the family members who own the company on hold until at least April so the sides can keep working toward a settlement, the Associated Press reported. Purdue Pharma reached a tentative settlement in September that could be worth up to $12 billion. 

Marshall is co-chair of the opioid council and said the collaborative effort by various state agencies has led to progress in the deadly fight against opioids since the council’s first meeting in 2017.

“We’re not where we need to be but we’re a long way from where we were,” Marshall said.

Alabama Daily News reported earlier this week that in the one-year period between Aug. 22, 2018 and Aug. 22, 2019, at least 540 Alabamians died of opioid drug overdoses, according to information from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.

Co-chair and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said a lot of that progress stems from a more transparent sharing of information across agencies.

“I think we’ve eliminated the barriers of knowing who has what information and now we all trust each other and some of the difficult technicalities of sharing that information have been resolved as well,” Harris told ADN.

Representatives from mental health, the department of health and law enforcement make up the council that has sub-committees on specific focus areas, including data collection, treatment and recovery, community engagement and prevention.

Dr. Mark Wilson chairs the council’s sub-committee on rescue and said that he has seen a major breakthrough with law enforcement agencies willing to carry the overdose-reversing drug of Naloxone on them to stop overdoses.

Wilson said that more than 11,000 emergency kits containing Naloxone have been distributed throughout the state. Most of those going to first responders and substance use treatment facilities.

But Wilson said it is one of their goals to promote Naloxone availability at colleges and universities and increase training in how to dispense it, especially in high-risk counties.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Alabama has the highest rate of opioid prescriptions per capita out of any state but council members say it has declined in the past three years.

Dr. Darlene Traffanstedt chairs that committee and said a way to cut prescription rates is to make sure the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program continues to be funded. It helps doctors see the risk to their patients based on the medications prescribed.

The Legislature appropriated $1.1 million in fiscal year 2019 for the PDMP and $1.2 million for FY 2020. Harris said they will be asking the Legislature to continue to fund it in the 2021 General Fund budget.

The council’s annual report will be completed by Dec. 31, 2019 and will be located on the Alabama Department of Mental Health’s website.

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