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First batch of funding from national opioid settlement heading to Missoula County

Posted at 9:26 AM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 11:26:15-05

MISSOULA - Missoula County stands to receive its first round of funding from the national opioid lawsuit, and it has reached an agreement with the Montana Attorney General's Office on how the funding will be managed.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved the agreement, and the potential uses of the funding are many. What's currently on the table is expected to be an annual allotment over nearly two decades.

“One of the steps required for the county to gain access to those funds is to create a governance structure,” said county CAO Chris Lounsbury. “It appoints the Board of County Commissioners as the governing body overseeing those funds.”

The arrangement with the Attorney General's Office and other counties looks to ensure a “fair and transparent process” for making decisions on how the settlement funds will be used in the best interest of the public.

“There's two ways local government can access funding. The first is a direct distribution, and the county's portion is right around $30,000,” Lounsbury said. “But there's a second and larger distribution for certain metropolitan areas, which Missoula is designated as being one, and that's about $150,000.”

Deputy County Attorney John Hart said the funding represents the first of what's expected to be several settlements. The first and current settlement includes the distributors of opioid pharmaceuticals, including Johnson & Johnson, along with a consortium of other distributors collectively known as Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Hart said the Janssen distributors include the likes of Walgreens, CVS and Walmart.

“They're actually the pharmacy defendants,” he said. “Purdue Pharmaceuticals was the major manufacturer of opioids. They're in bankruptcy and that process is playing out. They'll be on the hook for billions also.”

Hart said other smaller defendants are expected to settle over time.

“This is the first one that's coming through,” he said. “Missoula County is set to receive some amount of money in the next month or two. The payments from Johnson & Johnson and Janssen are paid out over 18 years. We're going to get year-one payment soon.”

Under the settlement agreement, Missoula County can apply the funding to any number of uses. They include in-home services, media campaigns on opioids and recovery, treatment courts, drug disposal programs and support for law enforcement, among others.

“That's a small snap-shop of the kinds of approved services the county can use this money for,” Hart said. “The approved purposes go on for pages. It's a good thing and it's very expansive.”

Missoula County in 2019 became a plaintiff in national litigation pushing to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors responsible for the epidemic. It hired the Keller Rohback Law Office in Seattle for representation.

Three years later, a national settlement was reached, and the county entered into that settlement last December. As a result, it now stands to receive several million dollars from the first settlement, and possibly more as other cases are resolved.