By Joe Capozzi
A proposed $26 billion nationwide settlement with the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid crisis drew a sharp rebuke from Ocean Ridge Town Commissioner Martin Wiescholek.
“It’s the settlement culture that we have come to accept as part of our daily lives where corporations can do whatever they want and if they get caught, they pay a little settlement,’’ he said Jan. 3 at a Town Commission meeting.
“It is unconscionable to even consider such a settlement. It's a slap in the face to every American.’’
With Wiescholek dissenting, the commission voted 4-1 to join the settlement with Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson.
If the deal is finalized, Ocean Ridge stands to get $32,000 to $36,000 over 18 years, Town Attorney Christy Goddeau told commissioners.
Many municipalities in Palm Beach County have reluctantly agreed to participate, noting the payouts will fall far short of the epidemic’s financial and human costs.
But Wiescholek, who had the item pulled from the commission’s consent agenda so he could publicly share his feelings, said his concerns were not about whether Ocean Ridge was getting its fair share of money.
“It’s not a cost issue where we can say, ‘Well, you know what? At least they are paying back what it cost us the taxpayers.’ It's simply, ‘We’re getting away with it and we are keeping most of our profits.’ That is not acceptable in my book,’’ he said.
“I'm going to make a very bold statement here: Keep your free money. I don’t want it. This is not what this town should be about. We should be ashamed of taking $32,000 for a settlement of 500,000 people that have been killed.’’
Vice Mayor Susan Hurlburt told Wiescholek she agreed with everything he said but added, “I don’t think us not taking part in this is going to make a hill of beans in the big picture.’’
Commissioner Geoff Pugh pointed out the town accepted money years ago from settlements with the tobacco companies.
“I think the town is lucky to get $32,000,’’ he said. “Maybe it's a small slap to those companies but still it's something.’’
According to research Wiescholek said he did before the commission meeting, the $26 billion settlement works out to about 5% of the four companies’ combined profits.
And if the town gets as much as $36,000, that equates to about $19 for each town resident, he told the commission. Then he said the street cost for one Oxycontin pill is $20.
“So we are settling this thing for the price of under one pill per resident to get these drug companies off our backs. Not acceptable. It's just not acceptable,’’ he said, adding that the attorneys general who negotiated that settlement “should be ashamed of themselves.’’
Before the commission voted to participate in the deal, one resident told Wiescholek she was insulted by his comments.
“This is not the place for social issues’’ said Stella Kolb. “What you're doing, Commissioner, is lecturing to us and I resent it.’’