By Mary Hladky and Jane Smith
When a $26 billion deal was reached in July that required the pharmaceutical industry to help pay for the opioid addiction and overdose crisis, a framework was established to get that money to thousands of communities that have borne the brunt of the problem.
Florida and its cities and counties are slated to receive as much as $1.6 billion if the two settlements in the massive nationwide case against Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson are finalized.
That’s an eye-popping amount. But as it is divvied up, each city’s and county’s share will fall far short of what the opioid epidemic has cost them.
In southeastern Palm Beach County, Boca Raton stands to get the biggest slice of that pie — a maximum of $1.2 million paid out over 18 years.
Delray Beach, the epicenter of the crisis in the county, could see nearly $900,000. Boynton Beach’s cut could be $783,000, according to allocations listed in the Florida Attorney General Office’s opioid settlements portal.
Gulf Stream could get $27,266; Highland Beach, $83,070; Lantana, $62,619; Manalapan, $55,275; Ocean Ridge, $32,671; and South Palm Beach, $14,990. Briny Breezes’ share is listed as $8,323, but Town Attorney Trey Nazzaro told the council to expect about $800 a year, which would be about $14,400.
Palm Beach County would be entitled to about $13 million.
“I think every single county is under the impression it was way less” than what each spent responding to the crisis, said Chief Assistant County Attorney David Ottey.
If the county had litigated the case on its own, “we would not be satisfied with that amount,” he said.
Various organizations have pegged the epidemic’s cost at many multiples of the settlement amounts. The Society of Actuaries found the costs in the U.S. were $630 billion from 2015 through 2018 alone, the Associated Press has reported.
Delray Beach officials are especially aggrieved that their share is so small when their burden was so large, and that the city trails Boca Raton, which was not as severely affected by opioid overdoses and deaths.
Nevertheless, Delray Beach joined the state of Florida in agreeing to the settlements, as did Boca Raton and Boynton Beach ahead of the Jan. 2 deadline, rather than leave money on the table.
“It’s super-disappointing to me to see actual figures when they came through, knowing that our neighboring town is going to see more of those dollars,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said at a Dec. 7 meeting of the City Commission. “And I know that they did not have as huge a crisis as we did in Delray Beach.
“There was not an hour in a day (in 2016 and 2017) when we were walking outside that we didn’t hear sirens running,” she said. “Our police and our fire staff were on the front end. They looked like they were in a war, watching young people die in front of them. It was terrible on a daily basis.”
Former Mayor Cary Glickstein, who led the city in 2016 when public safety officers responded to a record-high 690 overdoses and 65 fatalities and in 2018 when it filed a lawsuit that ultimately was rolled into the national litigation, also reacted with dismay.
“I think by any objective measure, the settlement is disappointing,” he said in a Dec. 8 email to The Coastal Star. “Delray’s portion of the settlement amount will do little to offset the addiction and mental health crises these drugs spawned by the defendants’ collective negligence and callous disregard for human life.”
He also faulted the metrics used to determine how much each local government would receive that favored Boca Raton over his city.
But Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer indicated his city had no control over the metrics used, and noted that since population was one factor, his city stood to receive a larger amount.
The city and county metrics are based on population numbers adjusted for their proportionate share of the nationwide impact of the opioid epidemic. Factors include the amount of opioids shipped to the state, the number of opioid-related deaths and the number of people who suffer opioid use disorder.
More than 500,000 have died from overdoses to prescription and illegal street opioids since 1999, according to federal data.
If the settlement agreements are finalized, the four companies would be bound by them. They would be released from all civil liability in the opioid epidemic and thousands of local governments and states would drop lawsuits against the companies.
But the agreements leave thousands of other lawsuits against many other defendants unresolved, including manufacturers, drugstore chains and smaller distributors. Many of those are negotiating their own deals, which could potentially bring more money to states, cities and counties.
After the agreements were reached, they went to states and their municipalities for formal approval. Most were expected to sign off on the proposals.
The Boca Raton City Council, for example, authorized City Manager Leif Ahnell to sign the settlement agreements on Nov. 23. Cities need not have filed a lawsuit to receive a payout, and Boca Raton and Boynton Beach were among those that chose not to do so.
The exact amount local governments get will be determined by how many of them sign on. The more that do, the more each state will receive. The states will then distribute the money to local governments.
Cities and counties will have numerous options on how they can spend the money. The settlements include approved uses for the funds that stretch over many pages, but generally revolve around opioid prevention, treatment and recovery services.
Joe Capozzi contributed to this story.